Objective: Students will understand that there are certain conditions under which they may be searched in schools for violating school rules.
Procedure: Teachers should present to the students the facts of the case in New Jersey v. T.L.O .1985. A New Jersey high school student-referred to in court records as T.L.O. had been caught smoking in the restroom. This was a violation of school rules. T.L.O., a 14-year-old freshman, was brought before the assistant principal. She denied that she had been smoking, and claimed that she did not smoke at all. The assistant principal asked for her purse, and found cigarettes inside. But there was also some marijuana, as well as a list of students who owed T.L.O. money. It appeared as if she had been dealing. Her parents were called and in their presence she was read her Miranda warnings. After admitting to selling the drug, the girl was suspended for ten days.
Her case went to juvenile court where she was charged with delinquency based on possession of marijuana with the intent to sell. The attorney hired by her parents challenged both the school suspension and the delinquency charge on the grounds that her Fourth Amendment rights had been violated. The juvenile court sentenced her to one-year probation for juvenile delinquency.
Tell students that the facts of this case may not seem that unusual. In fact, it is the kind of story that is probably familiar in many high schools where drugs are a problem. Yet the story made front-page news because the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. In a 6-3 decision the Supreme Court ruled that public school officials and teachers cans search students if there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that the search will turn up evidence that the student has violated the law or school rule.
Present the following questions to students for an open class discussion:
1. Do you think that the fact T.L.O. had cigarettes in her purse proved she was a smoker?
2. Do you think school officials should have the right to search pocketbooks? book bags?
3. Do you think school officials should have the right to search lockers?
4. How should a student's right to privacy be balanced with the school's need to maintain safety and order?
5. Students should comment on the following statement found in the majority decision of the Supreme Court. The majority decision in this case noted that a search of a student by a school official need not adhere to the probable cause standard; rather, school officials must adhere to the justification that there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the search will turn up evidence verifying that a rule or law has been broken.
6.The dissenting opinion in this case was signed by Justices Marshall and Brennan. Ask the students to comment on the following statement: ..."A purse typically contains items of a highly personal nature. Especially for shy or sensitive adolescents, it could prove extremely embarrassing for a teacher or principal to rummage through its contents, which could include notes from friends, fragments of love poems, caricatures of school authorities, and items of personal hygiene..."