The Fourth Amendment guarantees the rights of young people and others against "unreasonable searches and seizures."

Also, Iowa law goes into a lot of detail about what schools and law enforcement may or may not search and how they must treat students. The Iowa lawbook is called the Iowa Code and student search and seizures are spelled out in Iowa Code 808A. 

Back to "Know Your Student Rights"

Can the school search my locker?

Yes. Schools usually justify locker inspections by saying they are school property and giving notice to students in advance or in their student handbooks. Iowa law supports this. So don't keep anything in your locker that you would like to keep private.

Can the school take away my stuff, like books, phones, or whatever?

It depends. If it's something that is illegal for students to have, such as a weapon or illegal drugs, schools clearly have a legal right to seize it immediately.

However, with other items, it's less clear. A teacher may take, says, a cell phone because the teacher felt the device is disruptive or simply is not allowed by classroom or school policy.

Most teachers keep the item for just long enough to prevent the distraction. They may give back a phone at the end of class or the end of the day. Some require that items be picked up by a parent. But schools don't have the authority to keep your legal property indefinitely.

Can the principal or a teacher search me?

Yes, but only under certain specific circumstances. Even at school, you have a basic constitutional right to privacy. Under the law, if a school official wants to search you, there are two requirements:

  1. Before he or she searches you, there must be a "reasonable suspicion," based on facts, that the search will produce evidence that you are violating the law or a school rule. For example, the principal would have to have specific information that would lead a reasonable person to believe that a particular student is carrying a weapon, drugs, or cigarettes. The principal couldn't do a search just because he or she believes that an unidentified student or the student body, in general, is violating the rules.
  2. The way a school official searches you should be “reasonable” based on your age and what is being searched for.

Strip searches of students by school officials are absolutely not allowed by Iowa law. In fact, three Atlantic high school girls sued their school after they were strip-searched when a student complained about missing $100.