Issue: Does a public school have the right to confiscate a student's cell phone and if so under what circumstances and for what duration of time?
While on his lunch break in the school cafeteria, my 16 year old son had is cell phone confiscated by school's assistant principal and was advised his cell phone would remain in the custody of the school for the next two weeks.
The school policy
prohibits the use of cell phones during the school day on the theory that it interfears with the schools primary mission of educating the children.
In this instance, my son was merely moving the phone from one pocket to another and was not usng the device. The incident occured in the school cafeteria during his lunch break.
For purposes of this answer, I would like you to assume two senerios;
1. My son was texting on his phone in the cafeteria (they will assert he was even if he was not)
2. My son was not "using" the phone but mearly moving it on his person from one pocket to another.(which was the case)
The school has a written policy prohibiting the use of cell phones during school hours. My son never signed or agreed to the school policy although the school requests that they do so.
My son was initially reticent to surrender the phone since when he had a similar circumstance last year, he was advised that the phone was lost when he went to reclaim it. It was a $350 cell phone for which we were never reimbursed. Further, the school does not issue any form of receipt when they confiscate the property so we could not even prove that they had the device if we wanted to. When I requested a receipt I was informed it is not "the schools policy" to issue receipts for electronic devices such as cell phones that they confiscate.
Is the school responsible to reimburse for the phone they lost?
Does the school's right to retain the phone extend beyond the school day or must the cell phone be returned to my son (or me as parent since the phone belongs to me) at the end of the school day with the provision that he may not be allowed to bring it back to school for two weeks?
What caused my son to finally surrender his phone was the administrators comment to my son that if he did not relinquish the phone they would call the police and have him arrested on the grounds that he was being a "disorderly person" in spite of the fact that my son was polite during the entire incident.
In this post-9/11 era that we live in, it is very important that I be able to contact my children via their cell phone after school hours in the event of emergency.
I believe a more sensible approach by the school was simply to contact the parent by phone or e-mail and advise them that their child is not allowed to bring their phone to school for the ensuing two weeks. If the child violates that provision, there are other disciplinary means that could address the issue such as detention, etc.
An even more reasonable approach would be to let the children use their cell phones in school during no class time such as lunch time. For many families with two working parents, the cell phone provides an important means for the child and parent to communicate and stay in touch.