School phone policies assessed


A new report by the American Civil Liberties Union found that school districts across California have inconsistent policies regarding a school’s ability to search the contents of a student’s cellphone, often encroaching on a student’s right to privacy.

The ACLU of California said searches have become a bigger, and more common, issue as cellphones have become pervasive among students.

The report’s authors -- Brendan Hamme and Hector O. Villagra of the ACLU of Southern California -- contend that searching phones could be a serious invasion of privacy, considering the amount of personal data a device could contain, including financial information, photos, videos and text messages with intimate conversations.


The report found that districts’ policies tended to fall into two categories. Most of the 164 districts surveyed require “reasonable suspicion” to search a student’s phone, while the others mandate that a search is limited to finding evidence related to an alleged violation.

The report, released earlier this week, found that many school districts ban cellphone use during class but allow students to have them if they are turned off and placed out of sight. (Students are allowed to use them in an emergency.)

Some districts have policies that vary from campus to campus. In the East Whittier City School District, a student could face suspension or expulsion for being caught sending a text message or taking a photo, even if it’s a first offense.