Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli says in an advisory opinion if a teacher has reasonable suspicion that a student is breaking state law or school rules with his cellphone or laptop, the teacher can confiscate it and look at stored messages or content.
“The supervision and operation of schools present special needs’ beyond normal law enforcement and, therefore, a different framework is justified,” Cuccinelli wrote, citing a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a New Jersey case.
Cuccinelli also says if a teacher finds sexually explicit images on the phone, the teacher should be extra careful and hand the phone over to police.
If the teacher shows the images to anyone else, he or she could be charged with distributing child pornography.
Delegate Rob Bell, R-Albemarle, requested the opinion after high school and middle school principals in the county voiced concerns about cyberbullying.
“They inquired what exactly their legal authority is,” Bell told The Daily Progess. “They all said (cyberbullying) is an increasing problem.”
Bell said principals want to intervene if they can but they do not want to violate anyone’s civil rights or break the law.
John W. Whitehead, founder of the civil liberties group the Rutherford Institute, criticized Cuccinelli’s opinion, saying it could lead to violations of students’ civil rights.
“This is bad, bad thinking,” Whitehead told the newspaper. “I’m appalled at this kind of stuff. It’s just appalling that people think like this in a country where we’re supposed to be teaching kids to value freedom and civil rights.”
Whitehead said teachers and school administrators do not have the expertise to judge whether they have probable cause to conduct a search.
“They don’t know what reasonable suspicion is,” he said. “They have one job – teaching students. They’re not law enforcement.”
“This teaches a really bad political science lesson, and that’s that the government can do whatever it wants with you,” he said.
Source: WTOP and The Associated Press.
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