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Testing the Limits: Your Teen's Legal Rights

Drug and Weapon Searches
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John Ritter

Call it a study in contradiction. Our kids learn how the Fourth Amendment protects Americans from unreasonable searches, but they're subjected to them once they step outside the classroom. Police roam hallways with drug-sniffing dogs, and security guards rifle through lockers for weapons or drugs. "All of this can make students feel like criminals, even when they haven't done anything wrong," says Bradley. And sometimes schools go too far. The Supreme Court recently ruled that officials at a Safford, Arizona, high school violated a 13-year-old girl's rights when they strip-searched her based on a another student's false tip that she had stashed ibuprofen pills in her clothes. But generally speaking, courts have given schools broad leeway, allowing them to check lockers, purses and bookbags if they suspect a violation. "A warrant isn't required to search students," says Jacobs. "Schools need only to think kids are up to no good based on something they've seen or heard."

Lesson plan: Explain to your teen that most searches are legal. Request a copy of the school's discipline policy (or find it on the school's website), and go over it together so you'll know he understands the rules and consequences, especially for possessing drugs or weapons. And should he be personally searched, ask him to tell you the details—where, when, how, by whom. Then call school officials and do the same, says Mel Riddile, Ed.D., associate director for high school services at the National Association of Secondary School Principals. "It's their responsibility to notify you and explain what happened. You want to be sure nothing improper occurred."