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HIGH LIFE : Locker Searches: Schools Rarely Use the Right

February 13, 1988

The Supreme Court ruled, in 1985, that under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, searches of student property by school officials do not have to adhere to the strict standard of "probable cause" imposed upon law enforcement officers, but rather to "reasonable cause"--to believe that the search will reveal some violation of school rules.

Here are some of the responses to the question: "How are locker searches handled at your high school?"


"The lockers are property of the school. Therefore, it is the proper function of school authorities to inspect the lockers under their control and to prevent their use in illicit ways or for illegal purposes," the private Anaheim high school's student/parent handbook states. Patti Glaub, dean of students, said the school reserves the right to inspect the locker of any student that warrants suspicion.

--Nikki Boramanand, 15, junior

Corona del Mar

Dennis Evans, principal, said that there has never been a comprehensive, schoolwide locker search at Corona del Mar. He said administrators, dealing with alleged drug and weapon problems on a case-by-case basis, examine individual lockers about once or twice a year.

Serge Beltran, assistant principal, said there have been no searches this year. "The kids are too scared to (buy and sell drugs) here," he said, citing the penalty for first-time drug possession as a five-day suspension. The penalty for a second offense is transfer.

--Patrick Yoon, 16, junior


Section 20.0 of the Anaheim Unified High School district handbook states, "Lockers are school property and subject to search at any time."

"If administrators, parents or teachers have a reason to believe that a specific locker contains an item which is illegal, dangerous or stolen, then the locker will be searched," said Joseph Carter, assistant principal. "Any time a student is detained or suspended for drugs or any other illegal substances, a locker search is always made."

--Lynda Kim, 16, junior

El Toro

"Each student locker is subject to search by school officials whenever there is reason to believe that the locker being searched may contain dangerous and/or illegal drugs or contraband." This warning, made a federal law in 1985, is on every building, over every row of lockers at El Toro.

Ed Adams, dean of students, said its purpose is to protect students from what others may have in their lockers. "If one person has drugs in his locker, distributing those is going to be harmful to other students, too," he said, adding that no lockers have been searched this semester. Adams reports that a knife was found last year, but nothing more.

--Dawn Stone, 15, sophomore

Los Alamitos

The school's policy regarding locker searches is according to federal code. School officials have more leeway in making decisions to search than do police, but arbitrary searches are not conducted, according to Dave Dorrans, dean of students.

"I think locker searches are a violation of our constitutional right to privacy," said junior Cindy Sandoval, 16. "I think that lockers are private property of the students. I don't think they should be searched."

--Laurene Harding, 17, senior


Phil Stock, assistant principal, said school administrators need only "reasonable cause" to search a locker.

"We used to have a surprise locker inspection day, but the courts have ruled that illegal because it isn't due process," Stock said. "We just go by the law. Sometimes we involve students and have them open the lockers," but other times administrators will ask a custodian to do so.

A few years ago, a student reported seeing something suspicious in a locker, Stock said, so the administration checked it out. "Sure enough, there was a gun there," Stock said.

--Monica Neal, 16, junior

Santa Margarita

According to Ray Gatfield, dean of students, the school's policy regarding locker searches is plain and simple. "They're the school's lockers, and we let the students use them," he said. "We have the right to go through them at any time."

Gatfield said it is an invasion of privacy to search a person. Though the Supreme Court's ruling states that there does not need to be a probable cause, the dean does not seem to think suspicion is a good enough reason. "A person should have a right to their own person," he said.

--Megan Bendtzen, 14, freshman

Next Week's Hot Topic: Who are teen-agers' heroes and role models and why?

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