Search and Seizure: Top 10 Things to Know
Published April 2015
Iowa Code section 808A dictates search and seizure in Iowa schools.
Here are the top 10 things you need to remember:
- Reasonable Grounds to Search: A “school official” may search a student or “protected student area” if: You have a reason, based upon objective facts, for suspecting that the search will produce evidence that a student has violated or is violating either the law or a school rule or regulation and the search is conducted in a manner which is reasonably related to the objectives of the search and the search is not excessively intrusive in light of the age and gender of the student and the nature of the infraction. This means that you can’t search a student based upon reputation alone, nor can you search a student based upon his or her acquaintances, nor can you search any student unless you have facts to reasonably suspect that student of violating a law or a school rule. The search must also be related to the law or rule you suspect the student is violating. For example, if the infraction is possession of a cell phone in class and you have already confiscated the cell phone, there should be no further search. Finally, the search should not be excessively intrusive under the circumstances. For example, asking a high school student to do a strip search to locate a $100 bill would be excessively intrusive for the age of the student and the nature of the offense. It is strictly prohibited by Iowa law.
- School Official: "School official" means a licensed school employee, and includes unlicensed school employees employed for security or supervision purposes.
- Protected Student Area: "Protected student area" includes, but is not limited to, a student's body, clothing worn or carried by a student, a student's pocketbook, briefcase, duffel bag, book bag, backpack, knapsack, or any other container used by a student for holding or carrying personal belongings of any kind and in the possession or immediate proximity of the student.
- No Strip Searches: A school official shall not conduct a search that involves a strip search or a body cavity search. Chapter 808A does not define “strip search.” However, the U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that a strip search is one that gets down to the layer of clothing that is closest to the skin. Asking a student to remove or loosen any clothing that touches the student’s undergarments is a strip search.
- No Body Cavity Searches: A school official shall not conduct a search that involves a body cavity search.
- No Drug Dogs to Search Students: A school official shall not use a drug-sniffing animal to search a student's body.
- No Opposite Sex Searches: A school official shall not conduct a search of a student by a school official not of the same sex as the student. If the student is transgender, ask the student to tell you how they identify and have a school official of the identified sex perform the search.
- Locker Searches: School officials may conduct periodic inspections of all, or a randomly selected number of, school lockers, desks, and other facilities or spaces owned by the school and provided as a courtesy to a student. Still, schools should provide written notice this may occur at the beginning of the school year. The furnishing of a school locker, desk, or other facility or space owned by the school and provided as a courtesy to a student shall not create a protected student area, and shall not give rise to an expectation of privacy on a student's part with respect to that locker, desk, facility, or space. In State v. Jones, 666 N.W.2d 142 (Iowa 2003), the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that students do have a reasonable expectation of privacy with respect to their lockers. Schools cannot rely on 808A regarding random, suspicionless (without an articulable reason) locker searches, but must give students notice before conducting “locker clean-outs.”
- Cell Phone Searches: Do not search the contents of a cell phone – contact law enforcement to search the device. If you happen to observe something on the cell phone screen as you walk by, it’s OK because it is in plain view and there is no violation. Just don’t start looking through the contents of the phone.
- Drug Testing of Students: A breathalyzer or any other form of a drug test of a student is a search and seizure, and is governed by Iowa Code chapter 808A. A school official may not conduct random, suspicionless (without an articulable reason) drug tests of students; not as a condition of getting into a ballgame, not as a condition of attending a school dance, not for any reason other than the school official has a reasonable suspicion that the student is under the influence of drugs or alcohol.