Public School Officials And Search And Seizure Guidelines (reasonable Suspicion)

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Educational Leadership


In their effort to preserve a safe and orderly learning environment, public school officials are often compelled to search and seize contraband, such as dangerous drugs and weapons. On the other hand, students have legitimate expectations to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. As with many issues in law, the question is one of balance.On one side of the fulcrum is society's interest in ensuring a safe environment for students. On the other side is society's interest in protecting the rights of students. To aid school officials in finding the proper balance point, the courts have handed down the "reasonable suspicion" standard. The "reasonable suspicion" standard per se, however, lacks the precision and clarity to serve as a ready tool for school officials to use in fulfilling their duties and avoiding court litigation.Decisions and supporting opinions from relevant United States appelate court cases were used to develop a model that educators can use in search and seizure procedures. A sample policy incorporating critical elements identified from the analysis of federal case law was also formed. Finally, the sample policy was compared to the policies from the fifteen largest and ten smallest public school districts in Florida.The finished model approaches the risk of litigation for school officials from three avenues or continua. They are the locus of the search, the degree of intrusion the search entails, and the degree of ambiguity associated with the occasion of the search. The model is designed so that point values can be derived from each continuum. The point values when totaled indicate the risk of litigation associated with a particular search. The comparison of the sample policy to policies from Florida school districts showed the sample policy to be more comprehensive than the district policies. On the other hand, the differences between the policies of the largest and smallest districts were slight.


Education, Administration

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