Backpack & Locker Searches in Public High Schools

Written by missy j. talbot
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Backpack & Locker Searches in Public High Schools
Lockers, although used by students, are still part of school property. (Greg Campbell/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images)

Lockers and backpacks are the two places students store things while they are in public high schools. Typically, backpacks and lockers are full of books, pencils, and paper. However, they can also contain dangerous things like drugs or weapons. School safety and the laws that govern safety are difficult to navigate because laws are not the same from city to city or state to state. There are some general things to know about school safety and how it pertains to these types of searches.


Most schools consider the locker to be their property, even if a student is using it. Generally, if a school owns lockers, it can search those lockers at any time. Depending on the specific laws that govern that particular school, students will be held responsible for anything found in their locker. Schools search lockers for stolen items, illegal substances or dangerous weapons. Depending on the particular school's policies, items found in a locker could lead to punishment of the student who is using the locker. Backpacks are another story because they are the property of the student using them. However, most schools have rules that state that anything a student brings into the school is susceptible to searches.

Students' Rights and Schools' Rights

The debate behind locker and backpack searches in many schools circles around the idea of the rights of the students versus the rights of the school. Some students have fought against these types of searches, maintaining that they have the right to privacy. Schools have fought back, maintaining that they have a right to provide safe environments to all students, and must do the searches to do so. Laws and regulations are in place in each city, state, and school district regarding that particular place's stance on students' rights versus schools' rights. These debates are handled at the local level, which controls local schools.

Just Cause

Some schools require teachers or administrators to have just cause to search a locker or a backpack. If the local school district has a law that states this, the school must show that it had a reason to perform the search.

Random Searches

Other schools have random search policies that state that they can search lockers or backpacks at any time and do not need just cause to do so. Again, each school district, city and state will create its own set of rules regarding this, so they are not the same from place to place.

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