Privacy Press Release

11.27.07

School Officials Force Students to Turn Over Cell Phones

Violates Students' Rights by Reading Text Messages

MASON, OH- In a letter today from the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio to Dr. David Allen, principal at William Mason High School, the ACLU of Ohio warned school officials that their current practice of seizing student cell phones and reading personal text messages was poor policy and unconstitutional. Recently, the ACLU of Ohio received complaints from students and parents at the school because several administrators began confiscating phones and reading private text messages to determine if the students attended private parties off school grounds during the weekend.

ACLU of Ohio Legal Director Jeffrey Gamso said, “School officials cannot just confiscate a student’s private property because they think a student attended a party after school hours.  Attendance at a private party that does not disrupt classes and does not occur on school grounds is none of the school’s business. Private student social activities are issues for parents, not the school.”

Gamso continued, “Forcing young people to hand over their cell phones simply so officials may read the text messages would be no better than requiring a student to bring in their personal diary so officials could inspect it. It is a grave violation of the students’ privacy.”

Throughout the past several weeks, the ACLU of Ohio has received numerous complaints from students and parents at William Mason High School. Some complained that staff threatened them with disciplinary action if they refused to turn over their cell phones.

In his letter to the school, Gamso also claimed that the school’s actions were curtailing the students’ free speech rights by instilling fear in them that any text message they send or receive may be read by the school.

Gamso concluded, “Schools do not have a right to confiscate students’ personal property in order to investigate something that may or may not have even occurred, and if it did, was outside of school property and on students’ free time. Young people do not shed their constitutional rights at the school door and barring an incident that disrupts the learning process, schools should allow parents to monitor their children outside of school.”

The nonprofit, nonpartisan ACLU of Ohio office is located in Cleveland and has community and campus chapters located throughout the state. There are almost 30,000 ACLU members and supporters in Ohio and more than 500,000 nationwide.