Schools are responsible for the safety of their students. This is why principals and teachers can do searches in some situations. Searches can be necessary to maintain an orderly atmosphere and ensure the well-being of students.
Schools have a duty to create a healthy learning environment and prevent violence, bullying and illegal activities. This is why schools adopt rules of conduct and present them to students each year.
To ensure student safety, schools must make sure the law and school rules of conduct are respected. Principals, teachers and other school staff can do a search if this is necessary to protect students and enforce discipline.
Places School Staff Can Search
A principal or a teacher can search students themselves and their personal belongings. For example, they can ask students to turn out their pockets to see the contents. They can search the belongings of students in places such as
- desks, and
Young people should know that they can’t expect complete privacy at school.
How Searches Must Be Done
Searches can’t be done for just any reason and in any old way!
School staff cannot search unless they have “reasonable grounds” to search. This means they must have good reasons to think that a student is breaking, or has broken, the law or a school rule, and that the search will turn up evidence of this. This evidence might be, for example, drugs or a weapon.
A search might be considered reasonable when information or observations come from these sources:
- a student who is credible (believable)
- several students
- a teacher or principal
The search must be done in the most respectful way possible, for example, by searching on top of clothing.
If the rules about searches are not respected, the evidence turned up during the search might not be allowed in court. To learn more about this, you can ask a lawyer.
Can schools do strip searches? Under what conditions?
The courts have not yet answered these questions. But the Supreme Court of Canada has made some important decisions. One of these decisions dealt with searches at school in general, and the other decision dealt with strip searches.