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learning.now: at the crossroads of Internet culture & education with host Andy Carvin

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July072006

Should Principals Be Allowed to Review Students’ Cell Phone Records?

A Boston-area school district is asserting the right to search students’ cell phones for inappopriate information. Does this policy, one of the first of its kind in the US, cross the line?

According to today’s Metro West Daily News, principals in the town of Framingham, Massachusetts have been given the go-ahead to examine students’ cell phones and review all of their contents while searching for contraband.

Quoting from the article:

High school administrators under a new policy are claiming the right to snatch information stored in students’ cell phones when they search for drugs or stolen property at school. The change clarifies the school’s search and seizure policy, adding cell phones to the list of places school officials can snoop if they suspect a student has contraband. Federal law says school officials need only “reasonable suspicion” of the presence of drugs or stolen goods to conduct searches.

“We reserve the right to look through the cell phone,” Principal Michael Welch said. “It would be no different than if a student were to have a notebook. We’ve had instances of graffiti. We’ve looked through a notebook and found identical instances of graffiti.”

“I find it troubling,” ACLU attorney John Reinstein said in the article. “They’re essentially going on a fishing expedition. It’s not based on a reasonable expectation that the student has anything unlawful on a cell phone. It’s simply they want to look there…. They’re behaving more like police than school officials.”

Of course, today’s cell phones can contain an enormous amount of personal data. Even the most rudimentary of phones will include logs of all incoming and outgoing calls, as well as contact information for friends and family. Beyond that, you could also expect to find the student’s collection of cameraphone photos and video clips, logs of websites visited, stored logins and passwords of websites visited, instant messaging records, SMS text logs, mp3 files, ringtones and emails. For me, it’s the email part of it that’s most disturbing. There’s a decent chance that an email account on a student’s phone would be connected with their family’s email account. Insisting on the right to search these email accounts would be tantamount to the principal showing up at their house and ordering their parents to hand over the family PC for inspection.

What do you think of this situation? School officials have long possessed the right to search a student’s belongings, but does this type of investigatory datamining go too far? Should a principal be able to examine a student’s private email and phone records merely through “reasonable suspicion” that something has run afoul? -andy

Filed under : Mobile Devices, Policy

Responses

If the policy actually is as reported, it would seem to present concerns. I am wondering whether there is an error in reporting.

I do believe that under current search and seizure law in schools, if there is a reasonable suspicion that a student is using a cell phone in a way that is in violation of a school policy or the law, that school officials would be justified in reviewing the student’s cell phone records.

But the reasonable suspicion would have to be specifically tied to cell phone use — that is a reasonable suspicion based on some facts that the student was using the cell phone on campus to engage in inappropriate activities. For example, a reasonable suspicion that the student was using a cell phone on campus to arrange for drug sales would justify examination of the cell phone records.

But if there is not specific evidence of use of a cell phone in the context of the commission of the inappropriate act this would not seem to justify an investigation of cell phone records.

Yes, there are privacy issues involved here. But teens are or could be using cell phones to faciliate drug sales, engage in gang and hate group activities, take embarassing pictures of other students in locker rooms, cyberbully other students, and even plan violent attacks at school. The bottom line assessment will need to be the reasonableness of the suspicion that the cell phone has been used to accomplish any of these potentially very dangerous and harmful activities. No one is forcing students to use cell phones on campus.

Nancy

Personally I feel that anything brought into the school should be available for search under appropriate, well-defined, conditions. I also believe that this is another example of how schools are unprepared in respect to technology policy.

Hi Nancy,

I was wondering the same thing - I’m trying to track down a copy of their new policy pamphlet that supposedly spells all of this out. The story was one of the top stories on the Boston Globe website as well. I wonder how all of this would play out in NYC, where many parents are demanding that their kids be able to carry phones for emergencies.

Why would any principal or teacher want to take on more parental duties?

While I can see some of Nancy’s points above, this definitely sounds like yet another fishing expedition. I don’t always agree with the ACLU, but I do agree on this one. They are just trying to violate student privacy under their “reasonable suspicion” label. Reasonable to who exactly? It is pretty much as if they came to your home to snoop on your home PC, especially the e-mail part. That’s none of their business. If you have serious cause, instance of cyberbullying or other threat, then make sure you have the evidence and not just some “reasonable” reason.

I cringe whenever I hear about an erosion of students’ rights. I know that we have to have certain abilities in order to keep control of the school environment, but these abilities always seem a little dictatorial. Obviously, when a dictator has usurped all rights peace is relatively easy to maintain.

Students, however, should be gradually gaining freedoms and responsibilities on the road to become full-fledged citizens of the United States. Checking lockers make sense because it is public property. Checking bags may occasionally be a matter of public safety. Information on a cell phone falls under neither of these categories. The comparison to notebooks is an apt one. Both are places in which we store personal information and intellectual property, and we do so with a reasonable expectation of privacy.

With that said, I did one time confiscate and search a cell phone and found pornographic images. The seizure was originally made because a gaggle of students were surrounding the phone and making suggestive comments. By the time I had the phone I knew exactly what I was looking for and only looked for the offending video. Possession of pornography is a clear violation of school policy. Using a phone to gather circumstantial evidence is wrong.

I think that’s a reasonable example, Dan… Clearly, the student in question was interfering with the educational process, no different than a gaggle of students looking at inappropriate images on a PC. But this new rule definitely seems like an excuse to conduct fishing expeditions… -andy

Unfortunately, in today’s society, searching kid’s for drugs or stolen property is becoming more and more necessary. Most school policies that I’ve ever seen ban students from bringing cell phones, or other electronics for that matter, into the school. Also, most schools I know reserve the right to search cars that are on the school property, so I say why not cell phones. Text messaging has become a major communication method. I think a lot of problems could be resolved by looking in a student’s cell phone. If they don’t want school officials looking at their cell phone then they shouldn’t bring it to school! I do, however, feel that the school official must have reason to go fishing through a student’s cell phone. I truly believe this is all in the efforts to eliminate drugs from our school systems!

I think you should read this www.paed.uscourts.gov/documents/opinions/06D0400P.pdf

i think that school ppl should be alowed to search peoples bags if they have a good reason,like if a kid found out that he was being talked about in apropratley on text messaging than the people who he thinks might have done it can be searched only if the student has a reasonable answer to why it might be them(not like i dont like him or something like that) and that the teachers should only be alowed to look at the messaging section of the phone and not things like phone # and pictures unless pictures are involved it the offence.

Unfortunately, in today’s society, searching kid’s for drugs or stolen property is becoming more and more necessary. Most school policies that I’ve ever seen ban students from bringing cell phones, or other electronics for that matter, into the school. Also, most schools I know reserve the right to search cars that are on the school property, so I say why not cell phones. Text messaging has become a major communication method. I think a lot of problems could be resolved by looking in a student’s cell phone. If they don’t want school officials looking at their cell phone then they shouldn’t bring it to school! I do, however, feel that the school official must have reason to go fishing through a student’s cell phone. I truly believe this is all in the efforts to eliminate drugs from our school systems!

HELLO INVASION OF PRIVACY PPL!!!!!!!

I am 16 yrs old and yesterday my schools principal called me into his office and asked me to bring my bag with me. there is a situation with this guy and sexual harassment and this guy wrote up a statement that mentioned i SMELLED like Marijuana! the principal searched me and had the school female officer search me and my belongings after he had already checked my bag…… the officer did a pat down and made me feel quit uncomfortable. i was just wondering if that was a reasonable ground to search me because i SMELLED like Marijuana? also with the cellular phones invasion of privacy yes, but my friend who is currently involved in the harassment suit had text messages on her cell phone that supported our argument but she had given permission….unless there is a liable cause or reason to search phones i beleive that the student shouls call a parent and or guardian to be present or give permission to search. but only in the text message file. e- mails are private under law and it is a federal offense to violate that privacy right, without a warrant of cause from the legal system. i beleive that the school systems of today are getting out of hand in legal matters.

my friend text me during school hours when i had forgotten to turn off my phone, and i reached in my pocket to turn it off, but then i noticed my algebra teacher standing right above me! She asked for my phone and took it out of my hand. she then opened it and then read the text, leaving the comment “He is is he?” in our minds. After class, i went to recieve my cell phone, but i was then notified to pick it up after school with a parent/gardien. After school that day. My friend came up to me and told me the principl had my phone. i was like “yeah i know… wait, how did you find out?” she replied, “i called your cell, and the principal answered. She told me that you weren’t in” I had a few of my other friends test this statement out, and call my phone, and wihtout a doubt, she answered everytime. Before schoool the next day, my mom went with me to get my phone back, but to our suprise, the principal wanted to talk to my mom about what she found on my phone. At that moment, i had been more than upset. I sat outside her office as my principal and my mom talked. About 5 minutes later, my mom came out of her office, and was dissapointed in me. Mrs. Gibs had looked through my pictures and found one of me in a bikini top, and told my mom she thought it was provocative. For one thing, IT’S A BIKINI!!!!! when did it become illegal to wear them! On top of all of that, my friend tlaked ot me at shcool that day, and she told me that she had been texting my phone, and had the principal texting her back!She did not only say in the texts that it wasn’t me, but she also was talking about her day, and asked my friend how her day was!!! I couldn’t believe it! I would have sued her right then and there if i had to pay per text and minutes on my phone. I’m sure i’m not the only one here who would agree she did something wrong.

it isnt right for school officials to look through a students personal cell phone, that has nothing to do with school, if innopropiate iformation is being passed through cell phones, then the problem can be addressed differently, looking through a child’s cell phone may as well be their laptop or home at any chance, they have a right to privacy and this pushes the line, why are adults so much more concerned with all the extra stuff such as this instead of education, if you spend less time trying to be mommy and let the parents do their job and teachers do theirs, which is to teach, kids would have better scores and less problems because they wouldnt have to worry about having class stop for something so ignorant and pointless as a cell phone check

it isnt right for school officials to look through a students personal cell phone, that has nothing to do with school, if innopropiate iformation is being passed through cell phones, then the problem can be addressed differently, looking through a child’s cell phone may as well be their laptop or home at any chance, they have a right to privacy and this pushes the line, why are adults so much more concerned with all the extra stuff such as this instead of education, if you spend less time trying to be mommy and let the parents do their job and teachers do theirs, which is to teach, kids would have better scores and less problems because they wouldnt have to worry about having class stop for something so ignorant and pointless as a cell phone check

nice entry

I think that it is an out rage.
Now i can understand holding the cellphone tell the class is over or even to the point tell school is over….but looking through a phone to see who has been calling is a violation. I see my teachers all the time talk in class with there cell phones..not only in illinois school district but in PA too! ( I moved ) That is just not right. I feel like i have been discriminated. Even though i am 18 a Legal Adult just like the teachers..i am a student..and they are employees….so they hve been hired! that gives them the right to talk on cell phones…okey different thought….. this did not really happen..but just think about it…
I went to cracker barrel and i wasnt allowed to talk on a phones…but i see all the employees talking on the phone…and i get caught by the manager talking on mine…i get my phone taken away…..
Same thing people…this shouldnt be looked on differently…..
I have a right to my cell phone…in a school and public place….just like any other public place…
they will not…subject me to a lower class….because i am a student

I think tht teachers or principles have the right to look through a student’s text messages or calls or whatever as long as they have probable cause. Without probable cause it is an invasion of privacy. At my highschool the teachers have decided that if they take away a phone then they can read texts make phone calls and text other people, just for the joy of doing so. That i feel is an invasion of privacy. What i text to my friends does not concern the teacher, and why should a teacher be allowed to make person phone calls on my phone? So ass of right now its a big issue at my school and probably nothing will be done about it.like usual

School administrators should have the right to search phone records as well as anything else in their building that they deem to be a threat to any student or a disruption to class. If paretn’s would do their job and the ACLU would butt out, maybe our schools would not have the problems they have!

i don’t think it is acceptable unless the teachers think the student is involved with drugs or something like that. its like police going into somebody’s house and checking it without a warrent, unacceptable. lockers and stuff is ok because it may contain the actual things, gun drugs, and the police aren’t checking anything to personal about the student.

and it belongs to the school but the cell phone belongs to the student

Right on.

dose it meen if they are learning about the bill of rights that thay have now rights, no i think people should have right regardless of what there being tought, children have rights like anyone else no matter were they are. everone has there rights and this law is infringing on it.

Do you think it’s ok for kids talk during instruction? What is the difference when they are texting in class? NONE, it’s rude, disrespectful and taking away from their individual learning. Teachers and administrators have the right and responsibility to confiscate and read text messages sent during the school day. Don’t they? Did your teacher ever confiscate a note and read it? Did they have the right to do so if it was passed in their class? YES

Thats pretty messed up. I don’t think taking up and searching someones personal information is right whether it be this or in the case of Dan Holden’s porn kids. Where is the honor in finding someone was doing something illegal? What if you were in their shoes? Would you enjoy it. People today are in a unanimous vote that the brain doesn’t fully develop until you are around 30. But everytime we charge kids as adults. Those who support this only do so because they are scared of a stronger alpha male attacking them. In this case the alpha is a 15 year old kid. Wheres the courage or honor in attacking someone half your size and a fourth your age? Someone who might just be mis lead and need guidance, you shun and lock away. This “liberty” is just another way to lock up someone less strong than you. This only makes me beleive more that there isn’t courage in this country any more. Any who support this are doomed to walk through life with their eyes closed, afraid of the light. Im only sixteen and I have more honor than the majority of this country. The only thing we can do now is wait to see how long it takes this new poison to spread its vile death across this country.

I suggest the school board occasinally conficate and check the principal and teacher’s phones. Matter of fact, why not randomly drug test our teachers and administration!
After all, shouldn’t they be setting a good example for our students???
I suspect in some schools, many teachers would have more problems than the students. Why not search teacher’s phones…no more rediculous than infringing on the students rights. I say what’s good for the goose is good for the gander!
We rely on trust that these individuals are worthy of teaching our precious children. It’s time for teachers & administration to have to abide by a few of the rules they set for the students! Step up to the plate.

Teachers should be allowed to take and search a student’s phone if the student is causing a distraction or violating the rules which includes having it on in my school. Checking text messages is no different than reading a note passed in class. Searching pictures is like flipping through a photo album that a student carries. As long as the item in question is on school property, there should not be any limits on what a teacher/principal can search such as you can only search for text messages and not this. That is like saying you can only search is certain pockets in a backpack. Now there are certain things that are not right, such as the teacher using the phone for calling or texting. Looking at a students property is not the same as using it. Using a phone is like taking a young lady’s lipstick when she is using during class and then turning around and putting some on yourself. With phone issues, I usually take the phone, check it for any problems, and give it back to the student at the end of the day. The problems I look for are anything illegal THAT TOOK PLACE ON SCHOOL GROUNDS (what these kids do off school property and on their own time is their business) or anything that would make me think that the student might be abused, neglected, or suicidal. I have found inappropriate images, messages, etc and I simply tell the student to delete them for their own privacy, because all they have to do is drop their phone in the hall or have it stolen, and those things could be all over the school or internet.

It always amazes me when I see the clear range of opinions on the issue, weither youth or elder we all seem to have very ideal ways we wish to handle this sitation.
Yet with that said I want to state perfectly clear I do not believe that cell phone searches among students should be accepted.

I’m attending high school, a sixteen year old girl with a very high ethic saying I have my rights and privacy. I’ve over-veiwed my student’s rights hand book several times and never once have I allowed myself to be subject to such harrasment.
Though it’s one thing to know your place, and a whole other to abuse your knowlege to an exstent it’s completely ridculious.

My cell phone is for both my enjoyment, and business. I text both to see how my friends are doing, why they aren’t in class and also use it to see when my next class starts, or what assinments I missed to not fall behind.
It’s my thought that so long as that the ability to have a cell phone is not abused, students should be able to have them.

As one of my favorite teachers would say, ‘Its a slippery slop- Once something simple goes, how much more will be eliminated before we have nothing left?’

As a seventeen year old young woman, I highly dissagree that teacher should be allowed to veiw MY personal belongings. I let my parents veiw only because they are my parents but as far as a teacher, that I will not allow because that is my buissness only (and my parents). Due to this I now have a password to enter any of my personal infomation on my phone.
I yet at the school I attend, students do not used their phones durring class. As for myself I turn it off untill luch or the end of the day.
Just because an adult has a suspission of a crime does NOT give them the right to look through and message someone elses buissness. I think if they would have consaluted the parents then it might have been different.

Principals shouldnt be allowed to search a students belongigs because they might have something personal in in.
Like their purse.

i think that they should!!!

I am a teenager and if anyone looked through my phone i would be mad. i have personal stuff on my phone like videos and text messages from my friends that would just be an invasion of my privacy. im not saying that my text messages are bad but there personal if i told my friend who i liked over a text message then my teacher could see it and then he/she will know who i like! but i think that maybe the principal should first ask the student and the students parents if they can look through there phone.

I think that priciples are going to far…. I mean people have personal information on their cell phones. Principles should NOT have a right to search cell phones.

I never gave it any thought until today. I picked up my 16 old daughter today early from school because of some threats being passed through TEXT, when she came out to leave, she said I need to get my phone, I said WHAT , who has your phone? The princible has it! I said WHY? Well she had testing today & your not allowed to have them in that class, she forgot that she had her phone in her pocket…. so the teacher notice she had it in her pocket & ask my daughter if that was a phone in her pocket & she replied yes so the teacher took it… OK thats fine … you know you’ll get it back at the end of the day type thing so she thought… so I turned to the addm people & asked to have her phone back & because of the threats today …. The police had her phone ….. Ya & I said why do they her phone??????

It’s under investigation ????? UH I said WHY????

If they took her phone because she had in a class she shouldn’t of then why does the POLICE HAVE HER PHONE????

That tells me one thing! The PRINCIBLE WENT THROUGH HER PHONE!!!! WITHOUT ANY PROBABLE CAUSE!!! It was simple taken from her because she shouldn’t of had in that class!

That doesn’t mean you go through my daughters PERSONAL STUFF!!!!!!!!!! & especially WITHOUT MY PERMISSION!!!!!!!

I am OUTRAGED !!! PISSED OFF!!! That they get away with going through peoples personal stuff!!!

My daughter is an honor roll student gets GREAT GRADES is in ROTC never gets in trouble.

Because of these threats that happened today & the unfortunate of the teacher see my daughters phone IN HER POCKET!!!!! gives them the RIGHT TO OPEN HER PHONE AND LOOK AT HER PERSONAL STUFF. I don’t have a promblem for them to look to see if there were text messages pertanning this issue if there was in her phone, & that, I don’t even know & my daughter doesn’t know either, I don’t have a problem HELPING to FIND the person who started the TEXT, but you don’t have the right take it upon yourself to look through my daughters phone WITHOUT PERMISSION!!!!!! & how LONG DOES IT TAKE YOU TO FIGURE OUT WHO SENT HER THE TEXT????? GIVE THE PHONE BACK!!!!!!

Hello, I just wanted to let you knwo that I am a spohomore in a high school in Rhode Island and that policy has been instated at our school this year. They have already started doing it. It is a total invasion of privacy and no one supports it. And their idea of “suspicion” is ridiculous.

Hello, I just wanted to let you knwo that I am a spohomore in a high school in Rhode Island and that policy has been instated at our school this year. They have already started doing it. It is a total invasion of privacy and no one supports it. And their idea of “suspicion” is ridiculous.

It is NEVER alright for a principal or teacher to go through a students cell phone. Most parents should already know what is on those phones. I think if teachers or principals do go through them, it is a violation of privacy.

Recently a student in my school was completely searched. Cellphone, locker, and even his car. They had no legitimate “reasonable suspicion” to be doing this. The suspicion they did give was the most ridiculous claim ever.

“We have reason to believe you are selling drugs because you are constantly texting, we’ve caught you with your phone several times”

What the hell kind of reason is that? It means nothing, I have my phone on me like it’s the oxygen I breathe, does that mean I’m selling drugs? No.

These teachers and principals are incredibly out of line. I’m sure they would love it if I came to their houses and said “I need to search your computer, I have reason to believe you’re out to ruin my life”

i thank we should have our phones as long as we dont use them in class…because anything could hapen in skewl….skewl no days is not like it use to e there is to many rules,and its making skewl worse there are so many fight here now bc of stupid stuff…

its not okay bec its kind of dumb too be all up in other people buisness like why would you do dat shyt dats bull its gay and not required too do all of dat unnescacary shyt like dat thats all i have too say

teachers are rediculas now… they are making fake profiles in myspace and facebook under students names.. they do not use a picture tho.. I go to Campbellsport high school in campbellsport W.I. and my pricipals have made and gotton students in trouble for things out side of school.. they are not are parents they need to back off.. I have a belief that what they are doing may be against the law in some way im doing a research paper on it. because this needs to stop.. I would like some help.. .because this reallly angers me a lot!!!

My son was just suspended for five days becuase of a text message he sent to his friends phone. The phone was confiscated by his friends teacher earlier that day ( it is taken away for a week and you have to pay a $20 fine and serve a 4 hr detention.) The phone is supposed to be turned off and stored away. Well the teacher had turned it on and was going through it during lunch and saw the text message my son sent to it that said (in not a nice way) that he didn’t like that teacher. She was mad and told the office. They immediately took my son out of lunch and took his phone away from him and proceeded to go through it to see if he sent the email. Then I was called and told he had to leave. I think it is a total invasion of privacy.

exactly that is that cant do u can do something about it.. u pay for the phone not them u need to reread the student hand book and if they do not cover that issue u can take leagal action… they also have no right to turn on the phone.. if the phone is off the have no probable cause.. so tracy i believe u should take action or even go to the school board

exactly that is that cant do u can do something about it.. u pay for the phone not them u need to reread the student hand book and if they do not cover that issue u can take leagal action… they also have no right to turn on the phone.. if the phone is off the have no probable cause.. so tracy i believe u should take action or even go to the school board

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