Nashua officials seek advice on issue of student cellphone searches vs. privacy
The question was raised in the wake of the unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision last month banning cellphone searches by police without a warrant. According to the decision, scrolling through a cellphone, which is often loaded with personal information, is a violation of the Fourth Amendment that prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.
“The New Hampshire School Board Association has recently warned that we not search cellphones,” Conrad told the board. He said he didn’t feel the district was compelled to immediately follow that warning.
In Manchester, school Superintendent Debra Livingston said she consulted with the school district’s lawyer, and he does not believe the Supreme Court decision, which sets a standard for criminal law, applies to students. Livingston said principals search student cellphones and other property when they believe a student or the school could be in danger. That would include sexting, or sending explicit photos and messages, she said.
“Attorney Bennett will offer a legal opinion, and I suspect you will see other opinions,” said Conrad, who mentioned the issue was also being researched by an expert on school law at the University of New Hampshire.
District 2 state Rep. Neal Kurk of Weare, who introduced HB1533, said the laws are already clear. Although obtaining a warrant prior to a cellphone search has been the common practice throughout much of the state for several years, Kurk said the bill establishes a clear and common set of rules.
But there is, according to Kurk, one major difference.
“When it comes to children, different laws apply,” he said.
“The concept is a school has the right to do whatever is reasonable to provide a safe, educational environment,” he said.
“It is not illegal for a parent to search a child’s cellphone,” said Kurk.
“I think by the time school starts, we will have a plethora of interesting opinions on this,” he said.
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