Student ease of access to information, images, and

Student use of electronic devices in schools has become
increasingly more prevalent and complex over the last fifteen years. Cell
phones have placed an enormous burden on school officials because of the
heightened use of cell phones. Now, students have immediate access to
individuals,  and information, and the
distribution of such information with smartphones.  The expanded use of cell phones, primarily
smart phones causes a momentous distraction in schools. Today, students are
wiser and more technologically savvy than students in previous years because of
the ease of access to information, images, and people that were restricted or
very limited fifteen years ago.  Because
of the complexity and rapid increase in access, rules for cell phone use,
search, and seizure in schools has been left to school districts and school
personnel who typically create rules after problems arise resulting in no
consistency in management of such problems in schools. 

Riley v. California

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In 2014, the US Supreme Court ruled in a landmark case Riley vs. California, changing the way
law enforcement handles search and seizure of cell phones. The court found that
Mr. David Riley’s cell phone was unlawfully searched after a lawful arrest (LaMonte,

Although schools are not held to the burden of “probable cause” for searches
and seizure, school officials must have “reasonable suspicion” of a crime or
rule violation, (New Jersey vs. T.L.O.). 
As in Riley vs. California, the
court’s ruling clearly affects the search and seizure by school officials in
schools today, and the privacy rights associated with cell phones.

Although Riley v.

California is strictly a ruling based on a cell phone search after an
arrest, the court ruled that Riley’s Fourth Amendment Rights were violated
because the search of his cell phone was considered extremely intrusive. David
Riley was lawfully stopped for a traffic violation, the officers found two
concealed weapons under the hood of the car and arrested Riley.  After his arrest, the officers searched his
cell phone text messages and photos finding information linking him to a gang
related shooting. Due to the extent that the phone was searched, Riley argued
that the cell phone evidence was a violation of his Fourth Amendments
rights.  On July 25, 2014, the US Supreme
Court unanimously ruled that Riley’s Fourth Amendment rights were in fact violated.

(Hoogstraten, 2018)

Explanation of the court’s decision

The court’s view of a warrantless search following a
lawful arrest (the 1973 case, United Stated v. Robinson), was that the court
could not have known in 1973 the amount of personal information that could be
stored in/on a cell phone. The information stored in a cell phone is more
information than an individual can carry on his/her person, and cell phones are
not an immediate threat of harm to law officers.  The court ruled that even after a lawful
arrest of an individual, cell phones cannot be searched without “probable
cause”. The court also stated that even a search of the log that lists incoming
and outgoing calls is a violation of an individual’s Fourth Amendment rights
without probable cause. (LaMonte,

Legislation in regards to cell
phone searches in schools. In a 2013 case, a Kentucky federal court ruled in G.C. v. Owensboro Public Schools that a
student’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated as a result of an unreasonable
search after confiscating his cell phone when
caught texting in class.  The school
officials did not have grounds or suspicion for wrong doing,
and confiscation of a cell phone does not automatically qualify for warrantless
search. School officials were found to be excessively intrusive by searching
the student’s cell phone looking for violations unrelated
to the student’s infraction, texting in
class.  School districts do not have a
limitless right to search the information stored in a
cell phone when the search is not substantively or temporally related to the
infraction.  (Hoogstraten, 2018)

In 2010, a Mississippi federal court ruled in J.W. v. Desoto County Schools that a
student’s Fourth Amendment rights were not violated when a student’s cell phone
was confiscated and searched as a result of texting in class.  The court did rule that the suspension as a
result of school personnel finding photos of the student dancing in front of
the parents’ bathroom mirror while flashing a gang sign did unlawfully violate
the student’s Fourth Amendment rights. (LaMonte, SPLC – Federal appeals
court dials up an important win for students’ cellphone privacy, 2013) 

In 2006, a Pennsylvania federal court ruled in Klump v. Nazareth Area School District that
a students’ Fourth Amendment rights were grossly violated.  School officials used a student’s cell phone
to call other students during class to trigger other cell phones to go off
during class. This was intended to identify students who had a cell phone, so
that they too could face the consequences of violating district policy by
having cell phones at school and/or in class. (LaMonte, SPLC – Supreme Court
cellphone-search ruling sends a cautionary message to schools, 2014)

Statistics surrounding student cell
phone use in school is a little surprising. Reported by the Journal of Media in
2016, 97% of students are distracted by cell phones in the classroom, and only
3% of students said they did not use cell phones during class. Of the students
surveyed, 90%
said that their cell phone use during class was spent texting, 75% of
the students were reported to check the time or use email, 70% used social
media, 40% surfed the internet, and 10% played games. As reported by Pew Research
Center, 97% of the students use their time on their cell phones during
class for non-educational purposes. (EAB, 2016) 

In 2015, it was reported that only
12% of students age 13 to 17 did not have cell phones, and 88% of students had
cell phones. Of
those students who had cell phones, 73% had smartphones. 
African American students were most likely to have a smart phone
with 85% having one, while 71% of Caucasian Americans had a smart
phone. Students from middle and higher socio-economic backgrounds whose
families make more
than $75,000 a year spent more time on Snapchat and Instagram.  Students whose families make below 50,000 a
year spent most of their
time on Facebook. The Pew Research Center found that girls use visual mediums
of social media such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, while boys primarily
use video games.  (Lenhart, 2015).

Conclusions about the most recent
legislation and research. Based on the Research from the Pew Research Center,
it is clear that socio-economic level, racial
and cultural differences, and gender differences effect students’ social media
interests that serve as a catalyst for cell phone usage at school.  The overwhelming use of cell phones during
class time is proof that student use of cell phones is only going to continue to increase in
schools just
as it has each year.  The already
complex problems will only continue to be compounded.  The court cases surrounding student cell
phone searches in schools has established some basic guidelines for school
administrators to consider. The most apparent is that there should be not question of reasonable
suspicion before
an administrator searches a cell phone. Although the courts ruled
that a search may be conducted if the search directly relates to the crime or
violation and to the extent that the cell phone was used is a reason for a
search. Because of varying opinions and different views, it would be my
recommendation that more than one person evaluate the situation and agree to or not to search and/or
seize the cell phone.


Ideas for administrators

I have
concluded that a search must be justified with some form of evidence, a
threat of harm or endangerment to students or staff to prove reasonable
suspicion. I also conclude that the search may only be related to the crime,
infraction, or violation, and not beyond that. As a school administrator, I
think a good rule of thumb is to conduct cell phone searches only when absolutely necessary. I
believe that administrative teams, schools, and school districts should develop
policies and procedures for addressing situations with cell phone usage such
as: cheating, texting at inappropriate times, cyberbullying,
playing video games, using the phone for inappropriate communication verbally, with images,
etc. A procedure for handling infractions, and process for search and seizure
of cell phones in schools should be clear and consistent but not limiting. I do
think consistency among administrators, schools, and districts is key for
implementation and success. 
Administrators must be more cautious and carefully consider whether a
search is warranted more
so than ever before.  Having a
plan in place is the best way for administrators to manage cell phones rather
than reacting to situations as they arise. 


Possible solutions for the cell
phones in schools is to develop policies where cell phones must be put in
lockers, left in cars, or book bags during instructional time with no
exceptions.  Then, strict enforcement of this
rule would be key.  Allowing students to
use phones during breaks, lunch, and before and after school would give
students opportunities to have access to phones during the school day but limit
access. I think compliance would be much better if cell phones were allowed to
be accessed at certain times throughout the day.  Requiring students in today’s day and time to
avoid cell phone use altogether is an impossible feat.  Based on the most recent research, it is
clear that some restrictions must be put in place and enforced to address the
ongoing problem in schools.


I also feel very strongly that active
engagement in learning, cooperative learning, and student involvement with
peers in classrooms is more important than ever for learning to take
place.  Language, vocabulary, social
skills, and peer relationships are all hindered by the constant use of
technology.  We have seen a dramatic
increase over the last three years in the number of students who need speech
and language therapy, pragmatics, communication and relational behavior
support, and social skills instruction. I attribute this primarily to overwhelming
use of technology instead of socialization. 
Society is communicating through electronic means rather than
socializing face to face.  Students would
rather go home and play video games with their friends from home, because they
can no longer play against one another on the same device.  Students would rather communicate and build
relationships through electronic means rather than through face to face
interactions, play, and socialization. 
of this, we are limiting growth and understanding of our language, speech, and conversations by
using visual stimuli,
for example: abbreviations, symbols, and codes.  This break down in language, communication,
and social relationships is adversely impacting society, and I am not sure what
we can do to prevent it other than address it directly and consistently. 

Based on my last paragraph it
appears that I have a gloomy opinion of cell phone use and technology.

Honestly, I am a huge proponent of technology in schools, and for learning.

What concerns me is that the societal acceptance of cell phone usage among all
people has created an attitude that improper usage is inevitable and a sign of
the times. I think with all things, cell phone use and recreational use of
technology needs limits.  Americans have
a tendency to “super-size” all that we do, and we need to evaluate our
“super-size approach” to inappropriate technology use in schools sooner than
later so that it does not get so out of hand that we can no longer manage it. We
as educators must recognize the decline for what it is, so that we can embrace
and nurture learning
to use technology for the many ways it can help us.



EAB. (2016, 2 2). Texting, email, social media
the biggest distractions. Retrieved 6 2018, 1, from EAB:
Hoogstraten, R. (2018, 1 4). Implications on the
Constitutionality of Student Cell Phone Searches. William & Mary Bill
of Rights Journal 879, 24(3), 35. Retrieved from William and Mary Bill
of Rights Journal:
LaMonte, F. (2013, 5 26). SPLC – Federal appeals
court dials up an important win for students’ cellphone privacy.

Retrieved 1 6, 2018, from The Student Press Law Center:
LaMonte, F. (2014, 6 25). SPLC – Supreme Court
cellphone-search ruling sends a cautionary message to schools. Retrieved
January 4, 2018, from Student Press Law Center:
Lenhart, A. (2015, 4 9). Teens, Social Media
& Technology Overview 2015. Retrieved from Pew Research Center
Internet and Technology: