"H-E-L-L-O: Students have a right to privacy in their cell phones."
That's not just the lament of the empty-eyed Hot Dog on a Stick girl handing you your lunch at the mall. It's the title of a new report by the American Civil Liberties Union's Southern California office, which finds privacy rights are being trampled as more students carry cell phones and more school officials confiscate them because of texting in class.
"Without reasonable suspicion that a student has violated a rule or law using the phone, beyond simply having it out in the open or turned on in violation of school policy, there is no legal justification for searching the phone," says Hector Villagra, executive director of the ACLU-SC, in a statement about the new report.
It notes six of every 10 12-year-old and eight in every 10 17-year-old has a cell phone--and hundreds are being confiscated every week by school officials. But most school districts "are failing to provide students, teachers and staff with clear policies that balance students' legal right to privacy with the need for safety and order," the ACLU-SC concludes.
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And, for those post-grads who write this off with a simple "It sucks to be young," the ACLU-SC offers this sobering finding: school authorities searching the contents of phones confiscated from students can easily have access to your photos and information if the cell service is part of the same family plan.
The report, which is being sent to school superintendents statewide, summarizes the results of the ACLU's examination of search and seizure policies in nearly 200 California school districts, reviews the current legal limits for searching students' belongings, and lays out the components of an ideal model policy.
To bone up before storming the next PTA meeting, click here to read the report.