First Reading of Revised Policy 3230 - Student Privacy
By way of background, both the Fourth Amendment and Washington Constitution Article I, Section 7 protect students from unreasonable search and seizure. In general, non-law enforcement District administrators may search a student without a warrant upon “reasonable suspicion” of a violation of law or school rules, such as the policy against using or possessing drugs. See State v.
Applying the test above, the Washington Supreme Court upheld a vice principal's search of a student’s car for drugs when the vehicle was parked in an on-campus lot. See State v. Slattery, 56 Wn. App. 820 (1990). (Slattery is the only reported Washington court decision on student vehicle searches that I have located.) The Slattery Court reasoned that: the student was nearly 18; the administrator was told that the student was selling marijuana in the parking lot; the administrator had reason to believe the information based on past experience with informants and earlier reports from others that the student was involved with drugs; the student was carrying a large amount of money in small bills and a pager number that could lead to belief he had drugs in his possession; drug use was a “serious, ongoing problem” at the school; and the fact that the drugs were in a car presented “exigent circumstances” warranting immediate search, when the student or a friend could have moved the car. The Court determined that, under the circumstances, school officials were justified in searching both the student’s car and a briefcase therein; the Court stated that it would have been “anomalous” to limit the search to just the student’s body or his locker.
Thus, the Court viewed the search of a vehicle under the same general lens as a search of the student, his locker, or his belongings. A court might find the search of a student’s vehicle to be unjustified, however, if there is not a clear link between a suspected violation of the law or school rules and the potential contents of a student’s vehicle. In other words, school officials should not routinely search the vehicle of a student suspected of misconduct unless there is evidence suggesting a connection to the student’s vehicle (e.g., the student is said to have a weapon or drugs in the car). Officials should also attempt to gain voluntary student consent prior to the search.
In addition, the Slattery case concerned a vehicle that was on school grounds. It is quite possible that a court would apply a more stringent standard to a search of a student’s vehicle located off-campus, such as at the Wal-Mart near WHS. If the District suspects a student has parked off school property and has contraband in the car, it