School searches are back in the news. As the public becomes increasingly concerned about violence and drugs in our public schools, school officials are making more aggressive efforts to detect and apprehend students involved in illegal activities. Educators can use everything from undercover officers to drug-sniffing dogs to ferret out violators. As long as these actions are reasonable, they are likely to withstand constitutional scrutiny.
The U.S. Supreme Court examined the standards for public school searches in the seminal case New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325 (1985). In T.L.O., the court held that although the Fourth Amendment applies to searches and seizures conducted by school officials, these officials are not required to adhere strictly to the probable cause standard ordinarily used for government searches. Rather, the legality of the search of a student depends simply on the reasonableness, under all the circumstances, of the search.
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