The New York Civil Liberties Union today sent a letter to all New York City public school principals alerting them to students’ privacy rights and urging they adopt a model policy with regard to how their schools handle student cell phones. The letter comes in response to the end of the citywide ban on cell phones in school.
“The right to privacy is universal – it should not vary from school to school,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “Cell phones create a digital record of nearly every aspect of a young person’s life – from the mundane to the intimate. Schools must adopt clear guidelines limiting the circumstances when a student’s phone may be searched.”
Following the end of the ban, individual schools across the city have been tasked with setting their own policies regarding student possession and use of phones in school. The NYCLU’s letter and model policy cite longstanding case law upholding students’ privacy rights, as well as more recent case law imposing limitations on cell phone searches because of their inherent intrusiveness. Based on these standards, the policy limits phone searches to circumstances when there is reasonable suspicion that a serious or potentially dangerous violation of the law or a school rule has occurred and there is reason to believe that evidence of the violation will be found on the phone.
The policy also suggests that the scope of the search be limited to the specific app or phone files likely to contain evidence of the violation and strictly prohibits the use of a confiscated cell phone by school personnel to contact anyone.
“For nearly a decade the citywide ban on cell phones in school created needless flashpoints of confrontation between children and the police personnel who work in their schools – particularly in schools with metal detectors where students are overwhelmingly low-income black and Latino youth,” said NYCLU Advocacy Director Johanna Miller. “The lift of the cell phone ban creates a much needed shift in disciplinary policy, placing the power back within the hands of our educators. Clearly articulated guidelines for students and faculty alike will ensure that everyone’s privacy interests are protected and that the new rules and regulations are well understood.”