Lee County’s new policy will allow students’ phones to be searched without a warrant

Fox 4 Now | By Briana Brownlee | May 22, 2023

LEE COUNTY, Fla. — Fox 4’s Brianna Brownlee is digging into a proposal that will be discussed in tomorrow’s Lee County School Board meeting. There are a number of big topics that will be covered during the meeting, but Fox 4 is asking about a new policy regarding the search of students’ cell phones. With a district of more than 100,000 students, this proposal leaves parents questioning how far this policy will go.

This proposal would make it so school officials can search a student’s phone for any traces of illegal or prohibited behavior or use of prohibited items in class. That’s not unusual — what is unusual is clearing the way to do so, without the need for a search warrant.

In the digital age, it’s not uncommon for anyone to have a phone, and many parents send their children off to school with one, as well as many other electronic devices.
But this new change that Lee County is looking at would allow a school’s faculty and staff to go a step further, searching not only lockers but cell phones, even without a warrant.

One parent commented, “Naw, they have to ask me first, they need my permission first before they do something concerning my kid.” Another parent added, “I will say yes, especially if they are under the age of 18. There is a lot going on — just for their safety and others’ safety.” A mixed reaction from parents after hearing about the proposed new policy from Lee County Schools. Like so much else, the reaction depends on the parent.

Other parents are questioning if not only calls and text messages will be checked, but also emails and internet history. None of this has been clarified in the policy. The current code states school personnel can search a student’s possessions and lockers.

Fox 4 reached out to the Lee County School District for clarity, and they directed us to a section of the policy that states that the student’s property can be searched if suspicion arises from a situation. Fox 4’s Brianna Brownlee also reached out to a legal advisor for an answer.

“Quite frankly, I don’t know why the school would want to risk that.” Southwest Florida Attorney Michael Rahab says he doesn’t think this is constitutional, mainly because of the electronic aspect.

“Let’s say a principal picks up a young man’s phone, and he looks at a picture that’s of a minor. Well, he just committed a crime potentially, simply by looking at it.” Rahab also stated that if the school district was his client, he wouldn’t advise this move.

Fox 4 is still working on obtaining more specifics from the school district. Tomorrow the board is expected to discuss the changes at hand.

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