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Searches and confiscations

This page explains the law about school searches and confiscations at public schools in New South Wales. If you have any questions about searches and confiscations at a private school, please send us a Lawmail and please include the name of your school.


Can a teacher search me or my stuff?

Teachers can only search you with your permission or if the safety of others is urgently at risk  (for example, in order to stop someone else being immediately hurt).   If a teacher uses force to search you without your permission, they may be breaking the law. BUT your teachers can ask to search you or your property to see if you have something illegal or banned on you.  You can be punished by the school if you don’t agree to let them search your stuff.  For example, you could get detention or even a suspensions.    

Teachers can ask to search you if they believe you have:

  • illegal drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, or weapons
  • illegal material such as pornographic magazines
  • mobile phones, tablets, laptops or other electronic devices which may contain material or images which are illegal, offensive or inappropriate anything else that’s banned by your school rules.   Your school has to give you a copy of the school rules if you ask for it.

Can a teacher search my bag, desk, pockets or locker?

  • DESK – yes and they don’t need permission because desks are generally seen as part of school property.
  • BAGS – they need your permission to do this or if they believe the immediate safety of others is at risk.  
  • LOCKERS – sometimes this is considered school property so the school doesn’t need your permission.   
  • POCKETS – no.  They can ask you to empty your pockets but can’t search them.

Can my parents give permission for a teacher to search me?

Generally only you can decide if a teacher can search you.  Your parents can only give permission on your behalf if you are so young that you cannot make your own decisions.

If a teacher searches me, can they do it in public?

If a teacher does decide to search your bag, they should do it privately and not near the other students.  If possible an independent person like another teacher should be there when you are searched.  

Can teachers call the police to search me?

Yes. The school can call the police.  Police are allowed to search you even if you don’t give permission.  They can search you if they reasonably believe you possess drugs, weapons or something stolen.   Before they search you they should try and contact your parents.  The police can also frisk search you if they think you have a weapon (this means they can rub their hands over your body while you have clothes on.  If the police search you, you’re allowed to choose an adult at school to be there with you (such as a teacher you trust).

They can also ask you to show them your bag and locker. If you refuse, you could be fined up to $1,100 by a court.  If you are found with illegal things on you, don’t panic. You do not have to go with the police unless you are arrested. If you are arrested, you can phone your parents or an adult you trust and ask them to come to the station. Don’t say anything to the police until a trusted adult arrives and never attempt to run away from the police. But if the police ask it’s you may be required to give your name and address, and it’s against the law if you give a false name.   You can also call the NSW Legal Aid Youth Hotline on 1800 10 18 10.

Can teachers confiscate my stuff?

Generally, people can’t take your stuff from you within your permission.  However your school can make rules about what you can and can’t bring to school.  If you bring something that’s banned, teachers can confiscate it if they believe it’s unlawful, dangerous or disruptive to the classroom environment.

Can a teacher confiscate my mobile phone, iPad or laptop?

Teachers can confiscate your phone, iPad or laptop if they reasonably suspect there’s inappropriate material on it or if it’s been used to record fights or other criminal activity.  If the teacher takes your phone, they should look at what’s on it while you are there, and they shouldn’t look at things that are private and don’t have anything to do with anything illegal or banned.  

What happens if a teacher confiscates something? When can I get it back?

If a teacher does confiscate your property, it should be returned to you at the end of the day or as soon as possible after that.  If the thing is illegal to have and it’s taken by the police (like a knife or some other weapon), it’s up to the police to keep it for as long as they need it to gather evidence.  If this happens, your parents should be notified and given the name of the police officer involved.  

If a teacher takes my stuff and damages it, can I get them to pay for it?

If a teacher confiscates your stuff, they have to keep it secure and safe. If your stuff is lost or damaged while it’s confiscated, the school has to pay for it.  The teacher should generally return the item to you at the end of the school day or if not, as soon as possible.

If your question isn't answered here please send us a Lawmail with your query.

 

This page was last updated 9 March 2015.