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School Officials Have the Right to Search Students

In the case of Stanford v. Northmont City School District, an appellate court held that when public school officials are searching students, the Fourth Amendment requires that (1) the officials have “reasonable grounds” to believe they will find evidence that the student violated school rules, and (2) the search is “reasonably related” to its objectives and not “excessively intrusive” considering the student’s age and suspected violation. The Court also held that the Equal Protection Clause only prohibits intentional discrimination.

In this case, the students argued that they were searched in violation of the Fourth Amendment when school officials patted down the students’ pockets and went through their bags upon smelling marijuana on the students. The students also alleged that the school violated the Equal Protection Clause because the school punished the students, both of whom were black, because of their race, and the marijuana policy is racially discriminatory. In response, the school districts and its officials argued that there were reasonable grounds to search the students and that the school policy was not intentionally discriminatory. The appellate court agreed with the school district.

In support of its decision in favor of the district, the appellate court explained that based on teachers and other faculty reporting that the students smelled of marijuana, there were reasonable grounds to search for the drugs, and the searches were reasonable in scope because the district has an “important interest” in keeping drugs out of school. The appellate court further explained that the Equal Protection Clause only prohibits intentional discrimination, and the students had not shown that the district enforces its marijuana policy because of its disproportionate impact on black students. There is no evidence that either of the students were suspended because of their race or where there was a similar situation wherein a student of a different race was treated differently.

To read this case, click here.

Authors: Matthew John Markling and the McGown & Markling Team.

Note: This blog entry does not constitute – nor does it contain – legal advice. Legal jurisprudence is like the always-changing Midwestern weather. As a result, this single blog entry cannot substitute for consultation with a McGown & Markling attorney. If legal advice is needed with respect to a specific factual situation, please feel free to contact a McGown & Markling attorney.

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