High school students can be searched for illegal drugs without a warrant, if school officials have a “reasonable suspicion” based on specific facts, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
According to the court, schools are not held to the higher standards of requiring probably cause for a search if officials think there is an “immediate risk of harm” from possession of illegal drugs on school property, reports William McCall at the Statesman Journal.
|Thomas A. Balmer, Oregon Supreme Court|
In a unanimous opinion by Justice Thomas Balmer, the court said schools provide a unique setting, “including the responsibility of protecting students from harm, maintaining order, and fulfilling the schools’ educational mission.”
The court likened the job of school administrators to police who are allowed to search without a warrant when they believe there is an immediate threat to safety.
“As persons responsible for maintaining a safe learning environment, when school officials perceive there to be an immediate threat to student or staff safety at school, they must be able to take prompt, reasonable steps to remove that threat,” Balmer wrote.
The genesis of the case was when marijuana was seized from a Rex Putnam High School student in Portland in 2005 after another student informed school officials.
The court noted school officials were told the student who was searched had been selling marijuana to other students, school records indicated “drug problems,” and the student’s mother told a vice principal over the phone, just before the search, that the student “probably was holding something.”
Although there are limits on student searches, “It is not our function to uncharitably second-guess the considered protective actions taken by school officials,” Balmer said.
The ruling upheld a juvenile court judge who applied a U.S. Supreme Court standard on school searches because there was no previous Oregon case that applied, according to AP.