School District Changes Its Unconstitutional Cell Phone Search Policy
In response to a March 3, 2007, letter from the ACLU Foundation of Northern California, the Linden Unified School District has agreed not to read private text messages stored on students' cell phones unless there is good reason to believe that the search will provide evidence that the student was violating the law or breaking a school rule. The district's new policy also limits the scope of the search to the alleged infraction leading to the seizure of the cell phone.
The revised policy stems from an incident involving Justin Tomek, a senior at Linden High School. Justin's cell phone was confiscated by a teacher on Oct. 25, 2007, after he was caught talking on it to his mother. Although school officials had no reason to believe that Justin was violating any other school rule, they still accessed and read approximately three weeks worth of text messages, many of which contained personal communications with others, including messages to and from his mother.
On March 3, the ACLU Foundation of Northern California wrote to the school district on behalf of Justin and his family, explaining that the district's policy concerning cell phone searches violated the Fourth Amendment and the California Constitution. The ACLU Foundation of Northern California asked the district to revise the policy to conform to constitutional requirements and instruct school personnel that no student's cell phone may be searched other than in compliance with the revised policy. The school board adopted the policy on April 16, 2007.
The Linden Unified School District's new policy can serve as a model for other schools across California.