Wilson, North Carolina – Wilson County school administrators can now search students’ cellphones for evidence of misbehavior, following a vote by the Board of Education on Monday.
The new student search policy allows officials to look through the phone, including text messages and photos, of any student suspected of breaking the law or school rules.
The policy caused an uproar among some of Wilson’s relatives when it was introduced in August.
“It’s just a terrible idea. It’s privacy, it’s a violation of privacy,” parent Jayme Daniels told WRAL News at the time. “I have a daughter who will soon be 15 here, and I don’t want her phone in the hands of someone I don’t know looking at pictures of her and her friends.”
School board member Rhyan Breen, an attorney, echoed those concerns at Monday’s board meeting.
Breen attempted to limit the policy, proposing that phones only be searched when there is a clear and present threat of violence against students or staff.
Superintendent Lane Mills balked at the idea, saying he didn’t want to prevent headteachers from acting in a potentially dangerous situation.
“I fear as a trustee that we have seen an increase in violence in our country,” Mills told the board. “I don’t think it’s fair to ask us to do some of the things we do on a daily basis without having access to these devices when people bring them into our buildings.”
Students have brought firearms to schools in North Carolina in recent weeks:
The Wilson County School Board voted 5-2 in favor of a broader search policy.
The North Carolina School Boards Association did not respond to WRAL’s request for comment on Wednesday.
Wake County Public School System policy already allows searches of student phones, as well as laptops and other digital devices. Spokeswoman Lisa Luten said such searches are permitted by state law, but administrators try to limit them as much as possible.
For example, she said, if an administrator suspects a student arranged drug deals via text, officials could search for that student’s messages but not their photos.
“The potential for abuse or misuse of any policy is always possible,” Breen said Wednesday of the Wilson County schools policy. “I had hoped that more narrowly tailored language would prevent this. However, I hope that our administrators will be able to use the policy responsibly and that searches, in the rare event that they do occur, will be minimally intrusive. .”