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Searches and confiscations

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

 

When can a teacher search 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, a teacher 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. 

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. If they don’t have your permission, they should ask you to empty you bag out for them. The only time teachers could search your bag is if they think there is an urgent risk to the safety of other students.

Remember, if you don’t agree for your stuff to be searched, a teacher can punish you for disobedience. It’s a good idea to check a copy of your school rules to see what the punishment is for disobeying teachers’ instructions.

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.
If a teacher does decide to search your bag, the search should be conducted privately and away from other students. Where possible, an independent observer such as another teacher should be present.

Teachers have no legal right to search you without your permission.  But they can ask you to empty your pockets.   Only the police can physically search you.  

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 purpose.  

The police can search you without your permission if they think you have drugs, a weapon (like a knife) or something stolen on you.    The police may also request you allow your bags and locker be searched and anything inside your locker.

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 are 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 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 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.  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 when and if you get it back. If it’s illegal for you to have as a young person (like a knife or cigarettes), the school may give it to your parents instead of you.  

The school also has a duty to keep things safe if they confiscate them.  This means they should return them to you in the same condition as when they were taken from you.

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

You should check your school rules to see if you can use your phone at school.  Some schools allow you to use them between classes, while other may ban them altogether during the school day.  Teachers can confiscate electronic devices like mobile phones if they’re banned under school rules.  
If confiscated, teachers should make sure that the phone is securely stored and safe. The school is responsible for it and if the teacher loses or damages the phone you can ask for the teacher to replace it or pay you the value of the item. Confiscated phones and devices should be returned in a reasonable time. However, if the phone has been given to police, you may have to wait longer as the police may need it. If this happens, your parents should be notified and given the name of the police officer involved.

 If this page doesn't answer your question please send us a Lawmail with your question.

 This page was last updated on 10 March 2015.