The Virginia Attorney General set off a small firestorm (e.g., “Should Teachers Be Searching Cell Phones?“) when he issued an opinion to the effect that principals and teachers may seize student cell phones and laptops and access their contents in order to combat “cyber bullying.” (You can access a copy of the opinion here: [pdf].) Interestingly, earlier last month, a federal court in Mississippi held that individual defendants were shielded from civil claims (by qualified immunity) based on an allegedly improper search of a student cell phone.
Read more on the Technology & Marketing Law Blog.
School personnel are frequently granted qualified immunity for their conduct. That’s a damned shame, as it means that while we hold students accountable for their behavior in schools, teachers and administrators are often not held accountable for theirs. Should public funds be paying the salaries of those who abuse disabled students or who infringe upon students’ civil liberties? Should courts be endorsing immunizing them from the consequences of their actions?
Imagine if just a few teachers or administrators had to actually pay the cost of defending a lawsuit against an invasion of privacy claim or violation of civil liberties? The word would get out pretty quickly, I bet.
“But wait,” you might argue, “We don’t want teachers to be afraid to enforce school disciplinary rules and policies, do we?” To which I answer, “Yes, I do want them to be afraid if the rules and policies violate rights students should have.”