Searches and confiscations

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Disclaimer: This page explains the law about searches and confiscations at public schools in Victoria. If you have any questions about searches and confiscations at a private school, please contact us here and please include the name of your school.

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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 reasonably think you have something harmful on you.   Something is harmful if your principal has banned it, it could be used in a threatening, violent or harmful manner (like drugs or alcohol), or if it’s a weapon like a knife, gun or something similar.     

If a teacher thinks you have something harmful on you, a teacher is allowed to do the following things without your permission:

  • Search your locker or desk
  • Get you to open your bag
  • Ask you to turn out your pockets
  • Ask you to say whether you have anything harmful on you

A teacher cannot touch you or pat you down.

If the teacher doesn’t think you have something harmful on you, they can only search you with your permission.  But remember, if you refuse to let them search you, 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.

What items can the school ban?

The school can ban something if they reasonably think it’s going to be used in a threatening, violent or harmful manner.   If the principal wants to ban something, they have to It write a formal notice and make sure that it’s available to  students, parents of students, school staff and members of the school community.

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.

Can teachers search me for drugs?

The Department of Education guidelines suggest that schools should control illicit drugs and unsanctioned illegal drugs (such as alcohol) on school premises or at any function or activity organised by the school. As noted above, the school has a duty of care to prevent reasonably foreseeable risks of injury to students, which includes drug related incidents.

Can teachers call the police to carry out a search?

Yes.  The school can call the police to carry out a search if they think there is an immediate threat to the safety, security or wellbeing of a student.

Can police carry out a search?

The police can carry out searches at school if they think you have illegal drugs or weapons, including guns and knife (including imitation guns).   Before a police officer begins a search for a weapon, they must tell you the person of the police officer’s name, rank and place of duty.

Can a teacher confiscate my stuff?

Generally, if you own something, it is against the law for anyone to take it away from you without your permission. BUT, this is balanced with the right of your school to make rules about safety and proper education at school.    Your school can ban you from bringing anything that is illegal, harmful, dangerous, or likely to cause disruption to the smooth running of the school.   

There are two sets of rules about confiscations – it depends on what’s been confiscated:

  1. If a teacher thinks you have something harmful (like a weapon or something than can be used for violence), the teacher can search you without your permission.   Before searching you consider whether it is safe to take the thing from you, including thinking about the danger to other students, staff, and members of public if the item is not seized.
  2. If the item is not harmful but is likely to cause disruption to others, your school cannot confiscate it without your permission. BUT if you refuse to hand something over, your teacher can punish you for breaking disobedience and breaking school rules.  You could end up with a detention or worse.

Can a teacher confiscate mobile phones, iPads and laptops?

This depends on what your school rules say. Schools can make policies about what students can and can’t bring to school. These policies can ban students from bringing anything that is illegal, dangerous or likely to cause disruption.

Schools can also create policies about when and how students can use the things that they’re allowed to bring to school, for example, mobile phones.   At some schools, you won’t be able to use them at all, while at others you may be able to use them at recess or lunch, but not during class times. You should check your school rules for details.  

You are allowed to use your phone in an emergency to contact your parents or guardians.  

Can a teacher look through my phone?

The only situation where teachers and principals have authority to search a student’s belongings is where they believe the student has something harmful in their possession, like drugs or weapons.

The teacher has confiscated my stuff, can I get it back?

For mobile phones, if a teacher confiscates your mobile phone, they should generally give it back to you at the end of the day, or if that is not possible, soon after that. If a teacher confiscates your phone, they have a responsibility to keep it safe.  

For things like alcohol and cigarettes, the school doesn’t have to give them back to you and can give them back to your parents.

For dangerous and harmful things like knives and other weapons, the school principal can keep the item once they have decided that there is no imminent threat to the safety of anyone.  If the police seize the item, then you need to talk to them about when you can get it back as they may need it for evidence.  

If you’d like to find out more about these guidelines, you can find them here (see the section on “Confiscating other items”):

Find information about searches and confiscations in other states

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