I am 16 and the situation was that I was making a map of my school's security cameras (I was pretty bored) and one of my teachers saw me working on it and reported it to the school authorities. They called me into the office and asked me if I had a map of the school's cameras and I replied yes. They then told me that they were going to search my bag which I replied they did not have any sort of consent to search me, and since I had broken no laws, I thought since they didn't have any probable cause or reasonable suspicion, they couldn't search me. They then called my parents and asked to search my bag and they gave consent and they went right ahead with the search. Is this really something that they can do? Would the same thing apply if they were attempting to search my body?

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    Where are you? In England and Wales a 16-year-old has a great deal of personal autonomy, and I don't believe parents can consent to a search on their behalf. OTOH you say "probable cause", and that is not a legal phrase in E&W. Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 7:48
  • It is quite possible that they were allowed to search your bag. It would have been interesting if you had physically resisted the search. That said, when you are in trouble, what you really need is your parents stabbing you in the back. I can't being to understand parents who would put requests from a dubious authority like your school ahead of the best interest of their child.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Nov 18, 2017 at 9:31
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    Condescending comment, @gnasher729 - many if not most people would allow school administration to look inside a 16-year-old's backpack. In most places, schools are a community and not everyone suspects everyone else of being the next Judge Moore.
    – A.fm.
    Commented Nov 18, 2017 at 9:57
  • Schools don't look in bags unless this is in the very best interests of the child - if for no other reason than letting them keep that knife or that drug is going to get them in far more trouble later on. As for being a dubious authority, in many cases the school is the only authority, since the parents have long abdicated de facto control of the child.
    – user4657
    Commented Nov 18, 2017 at 10:52

3 Answers 3


The school admins likely did not even need to call the parents to obtain permission to search the bag. School admins only need reasonable grounds to believe there is evidence of a crime. This lower bar is due to inherent nature of the school environment and what it takes to manage it:

How, then, should we strike the balance between the schoolchild's legitimate expectations of privacy and the school's equally legitimate need to maintain an environment in which learning can take place? It is evident that the school setting requires some easing of the restrictions to which searches by public authorities are ordinarily subject. The warrant requirement, in particular, is unsuited to the school environment: requiring a teacher to obtain a warrant before searching a child suspected of an infraction of school rules (or of the criminal law) would unduly interfere with the maintenance of the swift and informal disciplinary procedures needed in the schools. Just as we have in other cases dispensed with the warrant requirement when "the burden of obtaining a warrant is likely to frustrate the governmental purpose behind the search," Camara v. Municipal Court, 387 U.S. at 532-533, we hold today that school officials need not obtain a warrant before searching a student who is under their authority.

New Jersey v. TLO 469 US 325 (1985).

School searches are upheld when they are reasonable. To be reasonable, the search must

(a) offer a moderate chance of finding evidence,

(b) the way the search was conducted was reasonably related to the search's objectives, and

(c) with respect to the age and sex of the child and the nature of the rule the child violated, the such must not be excessively intrusive.

New Jersey v. TLO.

Conducting a search that reasonably relates to the search's objectives means if you suspect someone of shoplifting a TV, a full body search may be considered excessive. while a flat-handed patdown to check for weapons when approaching someone as a police officer is almost always found appropriate.

  • While your answer addresses the legality of school searches in the absence of reasonable suspicion, probable cause, and consent, it doesn't seem to support the conclusion that parental consent was unnecessary, because there's no indication In the question that there was a "moderate chance of finding evidence" or even that the search had a reasonable objective to which its conduct could be related. If these elements were indeed absent then presumably consent for the search was needed, and the question of whether parents can give that consent remains.
    – phoog
    Commented Nov 18, 2017 at 11:07
  • Of course it did. It said the teacher saw him drawing a map, then he got called down to the office and asked about the map. A teacher's word that she saw an object in a student's possession is almost certainly more than enough to satisfy a "moderate chance of finding evidence." The teacher establishes its existence while common sense says there is a moderate chance of finding an item in a child's possession in the child's backpack. W/r/t reasonable objective, of course it had this, too: searching a backpack for a piece of paper... this one is not hard to establish given the circumstances.
    – A.fm.
    Commented Nov 18, 2017 at 14:21
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    What item? The map? It never occurred to me to suspect that they were searching for the map. If they were interested in seeing the map, I would have thought the next step after the student answered "yes" to "do you have a map..." would have been "can we see it?" Furthermore, your second sentence says that school officials need reasonable grounds to believe there is evidence of a crime, but it's not at all clear to me that there is any crime the map could be said to be evidence of.
    – phoog
    Commented Nov 18, 2017 at 15:00
  • Well, it is either the map or they were searching for some semblance of whatever they were afraid of from a student mapping out the security cameras. A weapon most likely. Either way, it fits as stated. It would not be reasonable if the item they were searching for (map or anything else) could not in fact be hidden in a bag. Regarding reasonable grounds, nix the word crime and insert the word wrongdoing, and we're good.
    – A.fm.
    Commented Nov 18, 2017 at 15:06
  • "A teacher's word that she saw an object in a student's possession is almost certainly more than enough to satisfy a 'moderate chance of finding evidence.'" - Evidence of what? Making a map certainly isn't a crime, and I doubt there's even a school rule against it. And it's not "reasonable" to assume that someone making a map has a weapon.
    – D M
    Commented Aug 1, 2021 at 2:41

"Probable cause" and "reasonable suspicion" are things that apply to law enforcement, not private authority.

Your school may also have conditions of entry that include, or be in a jurisdiction with laws that specifically allow, search of student persons and their property under some given circumstances. This may or may not involve police to ensure a search is conducted appropriately. Your consent is not required in such cases.

Finally, your parents may consent on your behalf, especially if you are defined as a child or young person over whom they have this authority. For students considered legal adults, this is like to not be a factor.

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    "Probable cause" doesn't apply just to law enforcement in the US: it applies to any agent of the government - and that probably includes teachers at a public school Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 7:50
  • There is nothing to indicate the question has specifically a USA context, even if they were, the phrase "private authority" could in no reasonable way be construed to mean "public authority".
    – user4657
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 8:03
  • The phrases "probable cause" and "reasonable suspicion " indicate a specifically USA context, coming as they do from Supreme Court jurisprudence.
    – phoog
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 9:29
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    @phoog : "reasonable suspicion" is a term in English law too. Commented Nov 18, 2017 at 10:02
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    @Nij You are wrong. The question does indicate a specifically USA context ("probable cause"). It's just that less of it indicates USA than phoog thought. Commented Nov 18, 2017 at 11:19

It is not illegal for someone to search my bag or even my person if I give consent. As a child (which you are until 18), consent given by your parents is consent given by you.

  • Doesn't age of consent come into it? The place doesn't seem to be named here though the person previously asked a question about the US.
    – user4460
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 15:20
  • @Dale Are you sure? If this is the US, there are different ages of majority depending on which state you are in. And those aren't really all the factors that apply in these cases. Usually children cannot be questioned (or searched) without the parent or guardian in the presence of the child.
    – mark b
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 15:45
  • This is definitely inaccurate.
    – A.fm.
    Commented Nov 18, 2017 at 10:30
  • @markb I don't think any US state has an age of majority below 18; a 16-year-old is a minor everywhere.
    – phoog
    Commented Nov 18, 2017 at 10:41
  • @notstoreboughtdirt "age of consent" generally refers to consent to engage in sexual acts, which is established in statutes defining sexual crimes and would have no bearing on whether a person has the legal capacity to give or withhold consent for a search.
    – phoog
    Commented Nov 18, 2017 at 10:44

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