Legal standard for schools to search students Reasonable Suspicion vs. Probable Cause


In schools, students lack 4th amendment rights which protects people from being subjected to unwarranted and unreasonable search and seizure without probable cause. When it comes to searching students and their personal property, there is a lower standard which is known as reasonable suspicion in which students are searched simply based on either teachers or administrators perception that a student may have or about to commit an illegal act.   

The main benefit of this is that reasonable suspicion prevents crime. The first way it does this is by increasing the threshold of suspicion. Adding this standard to the searches and seizures of students decreases the probability that a suspect will be caught, or that a search would even happen. Because adding a probable cause standard narrows the specifications of a search, the probability that a search would happen would decrease, along with the probability that illegal activity would be caught. The process to obtain a warrant is too long and convoluted. The impact of this is that it saves crucial time. It only takes a few seconds for a student to irreversibly harm other students, so it is essential for schools to mitigate the amount of time that someone has to endanger others. The second way it prevents crime is by random searches. School officials are able to conduct searches when it is evident that there is a violation of law or rules. The benefits of this is that it can stop eventual shootings or drug transactions on school grounds.   

Even though many people believe that reasonable suspicion ought to be utilized to stop the threat before it occurs, the contrary argument is it simply leads to too many negative impacts. The fact is simple, the probable cause standard allows for real evidence to be produced in front of a judge with a proper warrant issued to the police allowing students to be searched.

One of the main reasons that the reasonable suspicion standard ought to be replaced with the probable cause standard under the 4th amendment is that the current rules teach students to adapt to oppressive environments. The reasonable suspicion and random searches conducted in public K-12 schools today cause students to distrust their educational system and adversely their government. According to Jason Nance of the Colorado Law Review, strict security measures skew students’ mindsets about constitutional values and the role of government in their lives, causing students to discount important constitutional rights. The harm of this is apparent since it would affect education. The data from around 700 American high schools and 3 national surveys showed that safety and security measures in high schools can lead to results that hinder teaching and learning. It also allows for a distrust of teachers and even the government since students are in constant stress of being searched. Larry J. Diamond, Political Science and Sociology professor from Stanford University states that trust between citizens and their government officials and elected representatives is a vital element of a well-governed society. In the absence of trust, citizens become cynical about their political system and disaffected with the existing order. Distrust may produce alienation and withdrawal from the political process, leaving behind a shallow, fragile state that cannot mobilize national resources or shape a collective vision for national development.