Courts have paid lip service on more than one occasion to the proposition that public school students do not shed their rights at the school’s doors. I say “lip service” because, while judges have meant to balance those rights with giving educators the necessary leeway to educate in a propitious, scholastic environment, that balance has persistently tilted in favor of the school’s authority and away from students’ rights.
When it comes to freedom of speech, for instance, school districts have a fairly wide latitude to restrict speech they deem disruptive to the learning environment. This extends from school property outward to school-organized events. It includes not only the patently offensive or age-inappropriate, but the more dubiously objectionable, given the broad discretion school officials are given in practice. Only the most obviously political speech, to which others at school might object, has survived a school’s challenge to student expression.
The warrant requirement does not fare any better. School officials need not obtain a warrant to search students or their property (lockers, backpacks, etc…). They do not even need probably cause. Even that has been held to be too exacting a standard for school authorities to maintain discipline in their establishments. Instead, the instigation and scope of the search must merely be “reasonable.” We may feel some comfort, though small comfort it may be, in that reasonableness will still impose some limits on school behavior. Thus strip searches, barring the most extraordinary circumstances, are not reasonable.
Students in Jacksonville’s public schools and throughout the state, and their parents, should then view with care the limits on student constitutional rights.