Policy could let Lee County school teachers search student’s phones

Reporter: Gail Levy Writer: Matias Abril
Published: Updated:

Privacy in the classroom. What’s reasonable? What’s intrusive? Should teachers be allowed to search student’s cellphones without their parents’ permission?

This issue is at the forefront of the new student code of conduct policy draft under consideration in Lee County schools.

All this goes back to a law passed in 1985. The district admits there were no cellphones during that 1985 case, but the law first opened the door for diminished Fourth Amendment rights for students.

And Lee County schools argue that case gives them permission to search your child’s phone to look for something very specific.

The Lee County School Board argues the law gives the district the right to search a student’s cellphone without a warrant when there is reasonable suspicion there is evidence of a threat or a crime, and the search must be narrow in scope.

The superintendent of schools addressed parents’ concerns during a school board workshop on Tuesday.

“We would only look at a cellphone in the case where a cellphone or technology was the appropriate piece,” said Lee County Superintendent Dr. Chris Bernier. “If we’re searching a handgun, we’re not going to look at a person’s cellphone. If we have a social media post that threatens to blow up the school, and children are sharing that post with us, and we know who the author of that post is, their cellphone becomes pertinent to that investigation.”

But no one in Lee County schools can force your child to give up his or her cellphone password. In that case, the district would get law enforcement involved.

Dr. Bernier also said that searching cellphones is in other school districts’ student codes of conduct, but there is actually no such policy in Charlotte or Collier counties.

Lawyers said that this could be a gray area in the law that a parent could challenge.

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