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Do students have rights on drug searches?

Schools may enforce laws on drug trafficking and possession and other crimes. However, a student's constitutional rights are not kept out of a California schoolhouse.

Student may refuse a search by the police or a school official. They must clearly state any objections to the search but should not physically resist a search.

Schools and police may conduct a search over a student's objection if there is reasonable suspicion that the search will uncover evidence that the student violated the law or a school rule. An individual situation is considered but the suspicion cannot be based upon a hunch, rumor or curiosity.

For example, faculty cannot search a backpack for drugs because it looks odd. Any search must be conducted in a reasonable manner based upon on the object of the search and the student's age.

Schools can search a locker if it is the student's personal property and there is reasonable suspicion that it uncovers something illegal or violates a school rule. If the locker is school property, it does not need reasonable suspicion for the search. Schools must notify students on locker ownership in handbooks, signs and other media.

Schools may conduct random searches of students for safety or other general and reason and these searches are indiscriminate. Schools cannot focus on one student.

Schools may also make students undergo a metal detector search if it is random or if all students must walk through this device. There must be reasonable suspicion, however, if specific students must undergo this search.

Drug-sniffing dogs may be used to search for drugs on campus in backpacks and other unattended items. There must be reasonable suspicion to search the items' contents. A student should try to take their items with them if they must leave a classroom for a dog-sniffing search.

Schools cannot strip search students. Students do not have to undergo random drug tests except if they participate in certain extracurricular activities.

These searches have serious consequences. Any evidence discovered in a legal search and seizure may be used against a student for prosecution of drug offenses in court. School may use illegally-seized in a student disciplinary proceeding. An attorney can help a student protect their rights and contest evidence in prosecutions.

Source: American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, "Searches of students," Accessed May 16, 2018

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