Lee County school board gives personnel right to check student’s phones

Reporter: Annette Montgomery Writer: Rachel Murphy
Published: Updated:

The Lee County School District has given school personnel the right to check students’ phones in a new draft of the student code of conduct.

In a WINK News poll, 82% of people who responded refused these terms.

At a school board briefing Tuesday, Christopher Bernier, superintendent of Lee County, wanted to make two things clear: “Both for phones and backpacks this is nothing new,” he said.

“The aspect of searching a student’s backpack, adult student or one of our K-12 students or searching their cell phone is only done under cases of reasonable suspicion,” Bernier said.

Group of teens hanging out as some text on their smartphones. (Credit: CBS)
Group of teens hanging out as some text on their smartphones. (Credit: CBS)

The superintendent explained what is considered “reasonably suspicious.” “For instance, you have received through other students a text message or a social media post that has been attributed and you can track back to another student,” he said.

Board members Melisa Giovannelli and Chris Patricia brought up a concern from parents. Is this a violation of the Fourth Amendment and could parents fight the district legally?

Kathy Dupoy-Bruno, the Lee County school board attorney, said, “It comes from a Supreme Court case that’s pretty old from 1985 and that case is the one that says school districts do not have to have probable cause and do not need warrants to be able to search.”

She said two things must be true for a staff member to check a student’s phone.

“The first one is that the search must be justified at its inception, so before I even search, I need to know or have a reasonable suspicion that something has happened that justifies that suspicion. The second prong that applies to everything is that the search must reasonably relate in its scope to the circumstances that prompted it.”

If those two things are true, Lee County school board members say, a student’s phone will be searched.

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