On Monday morning, at Uptown High School, Buffy reported to the school Principal that her Chanel sunglasses and iPod nano were missing from her locker. After lunch, Suzy Snitch told Uptown’s Principal that she saw Kandi Klepto trying to sell a pair of sunglasses to another student during lunch. The Principal decided to search Kandi’s locker and opened the locker without Kandi’s permission with a master key pursuant to the Uptown High School Student Handbook which warns that lockers may be searched at anytime when reasonable cause exists. The Principal found the Chanel sunglasses and iPod inside Kandi’s locker.
Did the school official violate the student’s constitutional rights by searching her locker without her permission?
No. In the school setting, a school administrator may search a student’s locker. In Texas, courts have generally concluded that an expectation of privacy in a student locker does not exist, especially where the school (or a state regulation) provides notice that lockers may be opened at any time and when school administrators have the ability to access lockers through a master key (e.g. when personal locks are prohibited). However, a search requires a measure of reasonable suspicion or reasonable cause under all the circumstances. Among other factors, a direct tip from a student informant, reasonable notice to the student body that lockers might be searched, or an underlying governmental interest can supply sufficient grounds to justify a search. To determine the reasonableness of a search, a two pronged test is used. First, it must be determined that the action was “justified at its inception.” A search by a teacher or school official will be “justified at its inception” when there are reasonable grounds for suspecting that the search will turn up evidence that the student has violated either the law or the rules of the school. Second, it must be determined whether the search was reasonably related in scope to the circumstances which justified the search in the first place.
For more information, see Shoemaker v. State, 971 S.W.2d 178 (Tex. App.—Beaumont 1998, no writ).