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We are a German, 8th grade class and will go to a two-day-long trip (in Germany).

Everybody is excited, until the teachress told us she would take our phones overnight.

She has made a contract with the parents in which she states, "I will take your kids' phones overnight."

She doesn't name a consequence if we don't give her our phones.

Is she allowed to take the phones anyways and are there any loopholes we could exploit to retain them?

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  • A contract is a contract. If you don't want to hand in your phone, don't go on the trip.
    – Nij
    Jun 6 '17 at 19:27
  • I've posted an answer based on my understanding of the subject in general, and tried to approach it from all the relevant angles. My personal advice is don't fight it because the trip sounds really fun. Excellent question though!
    – DukeZhou
    Jun 6 '17 at 20:57
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    Do we suppose this is literally a contract, despite the name? In many jurisdictions, schools and teachers are in loco parentis and would have the legal authority to (temporarily) confiscate or forbid use of cell phones, with or without the consent of the student or parent. The "contract" could be simply advising parents or students that the teacher will be doing this. This kind of terminology is not uncommon in education - calling a rule a "contract" gives an illusion that the student is agreeing voluntarily to follow the rule and thus encourages compliance. Jun 6 '17 at 21:53
  • in loco parentis doesn't give a school or staff member the ability to do just anything a parent could do. Confiscation of phones is specifically an issue - it may be impossible to keep them from the student outside of specific learning-related activity.
    – Nij
    Jun 7 '17 at 6:47
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Contract Dimension

If the teacher is not an attorney, or has not had an attorney draft the contact, the language may very well be flawed, as you propose.

From a practical standpoint, you would almost certainly need to engage an attorney to challenge the contract in court, which would be expensive, unless they were willing to work pro-bono.

The wording of contracts can be critical, so your instincts are quite good regarding this angle of attack.

However, based on the sample you provide, my understanding is that the parents are consenting to the teacher collecting and holding the phones overnight.


Constitutional Dimension

From a constitutional standpoint, it initially depends on a key factor:

  • What are the laws in your region in relation to this issue?

Kids are generally afforded different rights than adults, ideally more protections, but also more restrictions.

I did some googling on this subject but have yet to find anything relevant. (Most calls for cell phone bans in Europe seem to relate to the idea that extreme overuse might cause cancer: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-italy-phones-idUSBRE89I0V320121019 My understanding is that there is still a great deal of debate as to whether this is so, and can serve to illustrate the interaction of the law and science.)

  • If there is no legislation regarding the rights of minors to carry cell phones, or be restricted from doing so, have there been any court decisions related to the subject?
  • If there are laws that support the confiscation of cell phone from minors where parental consent is given, is it possible the law is unconstitutional?

An activist might use the trip--getting barred for refusing to relinquish their phone, or because their parents refused to sign the contract--to generate publicity on the potential unconstitutionality, and reach out to activist lawyers willing to work pro-bono on the issue. (I could also see approaching cell phone manufacturers to back the suit for financial or PR purposes, i.e. fighting for the rights of kids to always be connected.)

I caution you that such suits, although always interesting, are generally extremely expensive, and can even be financially ruinous. The process, especially when dealing with constitutional issues, can take years and even decades. (Outcome of trials can never be known, thus settlement is generally seen as the most prudent choice in business litigation, although your issue is in a different domain.)

The first steps in challenging the constitutionality of this contract would be to:

  1. Research the laws and statutes of your region, which are probably all available on-line
  2. Scour law reviews for articles on this subject
  3. Search for articles from vetted journalistic sites on this subject (i.e. don't believe everything you read on the internet;)

Personal Dimension

From a personal standpoint, you will want to weight the cost/benefit of challenging your teacher's contract:

  • Is what you would gain worth the sacrifice to attain it? Is it worth the risk?

Justice and the law are not always synonymous, and even if your cause is righteous, you may not prevail. Even prevailing, you might find the cost was too high.

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    As I mentioned in my comment above, I would not be surprised if (1) the contract has no legal validity (2) it was never intended to have any validity (3) the validity of the contract is irrelevant, because the teacher may legally confiscate the phones anyway. Jun 6 '17 at 21:57
  • This is a good general answer that should probably be applied to a more suitable or canonical question.
    – feetwet
    Jun 6 '17 at 22:38
  • @NateElredge well. It has no legal validity, and in germany, students are only allowed to take cell phones for one hour (until the end of class) or in some regions until the end of the school day. Jun 7 '17 at 5:39
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    That's an expectation outside of a contract with specific permission otherwise. Which is the entire point of this contract: to obtain specific permission for what is not normally allowed. They need specific permission to even take you off school grounds, the camp is certainly not illegal if they have it.
    – Nij
    Jun 7 '17 at 7:14
  • @Nij I also noted, although I do not know much about German law, that the contract is between the teachers and parents. Mainly, I was impressed that a person so young would be thinking about the intricacies of contract law!
    – DukeZhou
    Jun 7 '17 at 15:30

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