Student privacy before Ohio Supreme Court in backpack search case
- A school security guard at Whetstone High School in Columbus, OH, found a gun in an 18-year-old’s backpack in 2013, and the state’s supreme court will next decide whether to uphold or overturn two lower court rulings that the search was unconstitutional.
- WOSU reports that the heart of the case — in which the security guard noticed an unattended bag, searched it and found loose bullets, then identified the owner of the bag, located him and searched his backpack, finding a gun — is the Fourth Amendment protection against unlawful searches and seizures and whether the protection applies to students.
- According to WOSU, Judge Judith French mentioned during a hearing Wednesday that a backpack sitting by itself, as the teen’s was, can be dangerous, but the teen’s attorneys argue the security guard didn’t have to search his second bag after finding the first, unattended one.
When it comes to constitutional protections, school districts often are tasked with striking a balance between individual rights and the obligations to provide a safe learning environment. Plenty of urban school districts have metal detectors at their front doors and schools across the geographic spectrum conduct random drug searches.
When it comes to student newspapers, administrators also have had to find a balance between censorship of student opinions and their desire to maintain an orderly school environment. Depending on how the Ohio case is decided, and whether it gets appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, schools across the country may have new guidelines to follow when conducting seizures of student property as well as searches.
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