According to this question and the corresponding answer, schools are legally allowed to confiscate items from students. This is not considered theft, as the intent is not to permanently take the item away from the student.

My question now is, how long is a school allowed to confiscate items from a student? "Common Sense" would indicate something like until the end of the class, or the end of the school day - or more formally, until the student leaves the school building.

However, I recall teachers confiscating phones until the end of the week, and even refusing to hand them back upon the parent's request, citing that "the student would just play on their phone again anyways". I can't imagine that this is legal, or that a teacher has the authority to confiscate an item for longer than necessary.

I am mostly interested in answers regarding Austria, but answers regarding other jurisdictions are accepted as well. Furthermore, I am talking about "general" items in a student's rightful possession. This excludes things like cigarettes, alcohol, weapons, etc., which may by themselves warrant different procedures.

  • This is highly dependant on the jurisdiction and context. It can range from "till the end of the lesson" (for example a phone to discipline the pupil not to use it in class) over "Till the end of the school day" (for stuff that disturbs the classes a lot) to "Until the parents come to retrieve the item" (for example a knife or lighter). In some jurisdictions, it is also possible for school to confiscate items and hand them over to law enforcement if they happen to find them (for example drugs). Germany will differ from the UK from France from Poland or Estonia. – Trish Aug 20 '19 at 12:01
  • @Trish Are schools required to hand over items to parents, if they request it? – MechMK1 Aug 22 '19 at 8:04
  • That depends on the jurisdiction and item in question. It is different in different countries. WHERE are you wanting to ask about? The EU has VASTLY differing laws, in the US it is entirely different again. – Trish Aug 23 '19 at 4:30
  • @Trish Let's say Austria, since it's my home country. I'll edit the question to reflect that. – MechMK1 Aug 23 '19 at 8:22
  • So you did. Mea culpa. – Michael Seifert Aug 23 '19 at 17:23

Since it's been a month without any answers at all, I'll go ahead and give this a shot for the USA.

This lovely answer to a question I asked about in loco parentis details the exact authority by which schools confiscate items. I recommend reading it, user6726 does a great job, but it basically boils down to this: Schools can confiscate items to further the purpose of the school.

In other words, if the phone is distracting the student from the lesson, the teacher may take it away, so the student may learn. It's conceivable that a teacher may decide to hold onto it for the entire day, since it would likely prove to be a distraction in other lessons as well.

User6726's answer does not go into when it is appropriate to return the item, which I shall now try to touch on.

A failure to return the item to the parent could be seen as theft, provided that the parent is the actual owner of the phone and they do not intend to simply return it to the child for them to use during the lesson.

It gets stickier if the teacher sends the student home without the phone, arguing that a parent must come to pick it up. It isn't theft (intent to return), but they could incur some liability in the event something happens to the child and they were deprived of their ability to call 911 in a timely manner. (Since the child was not in school, the school retaining the phone could be argued to not be in furtherance of it's purpose).

Again, this is for the US, and mileage of these things likely vary in Austria.

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