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Searches and confiscations

This page explains the law about searches and confiscations at public schools in the ACT. 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.

Searches

 

Can a teacher search me or my stuff?

Generally, teachers can only search you or your stuff if they have your permission or if they think the safety of others is urgently at risk (for example stop someone being hurt or if they think you have something dangerous on you).  
If the teacher wants to search you in non-urgent situations, for example, if they think you have something banned or illegal on you, they can ask to search you, but you don’t have to agree.  It’s your right to refuse, but you may be disciplined, for example with a detention (or even suspension). Also, the school can always call the police who can search you without your permission.

A teacher needs a good reason to search you. They can’t be unreasonable or inconsistent in deciding who they search.

 

Can a teacher search my bag, desk or locker?

Teachers can search your locker or desk without your permission because these things are generally considered school property.  A teacher can search your bag with your permission or if they think there is an urgent risk to the safety of other students.  You should check your school rules for more details about what the school can and can’t do.

 

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

You decide for yourself whether 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.
You may also be asked to empty out your pockets, however any physical search on your body can only be carried out by police.  


Can a teacher search me for drugs?

No. The only people who have special powers to search for drugs are the police. This means that if a teacher wants to search your property for drugs, you can refuse. They cannot order or force you to agree to a search for this reason.

 

Can teachers call the police to carry out a search?

Yes. The school can ask the police to search you if they believe you possess drugs, weapons or other banned objects.   The police can search you without your permission if they think you have drugs, a weapon, anything stolen or something that can be used to commit a crime.
If you’re under 18, a police officer can’t search you, your property or your clothes unless a support person is present.   This could be a parent, teacher, carer or someone else that you choose to be there.  
If you are found with objects against the law on you, don’t panic. You do not have to go with the police unless you’re arrested. If you are arrested, you can phone your parents or an adult you trust and ask them to come to the station. Do not make a statement to the police until a trusted adult arrives and never attempt to run away from the police or give a false name.

 

Confiscations

Can a teacher confiscate your stuff?

Generally, if you own something, it is against the law for anyone to take it away from you without your permission. However, schools can make rules regarding what you can and cannot bring to school, for example to prevent disruption to class.   

Generally, you don’t have to hand something over to the teacher, but if they ask you to hand it over and you refuse, you’re probably going to be disciplined for disobeying school rules (like having the banned item in the first place). Your can ask your school for a copy of the rules and see what they say.
Also, your school can confiscate anything without your permission if it’s dangerous or which poses an immediate threat to the safety of other students.

What about mobile phones and other electronic devices (iPods/mp3 players/iPads/tablets/laptops)?

Your school can make rules about the appropriate use of electronic devices at school.    If you don’t have a copy of the rules, you can ask your school.  They need to make sure that you are aware of them.      

If a teacher asks for your phone, you don’t have to hand it over, BUT if you refuse to hand it over, your teacher is allowed to discipline you for breaking school rules (for example by having the mobile phones in the first place).  

Also, if your electronic device has something on it which is illegal, the school may confiscate it.  Generally, though, they can’t look through your phone without your permission.
Also, your school can confiscate anything without your permission if it’s dangerous or which poses an immediate threat to the safety of other students.

Something of mine has been confiscated – when can I get it back?

There’s no law about how long teachers can confiscate your item for, but it should be returned within a reasonable time.  For valuables like mobile phones, these should generally be returned to you at the end of the school day.  You should check your school rules to see what they say about how long things can be confiscated for.   If the thing is illegal, then the school may give it to the police, and then it’s up to the police to say when you get it back.  If the thing is illegal for under 18s to have, like alcohol, the school may give it to your parents instead of you.

 

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 generally has to pay for it.

 If you have a question that hasn't been answered here please send us a Lawmail.

 This page was last updated 10 March 2015.