Discipline and rules
Searching students and confiscating items
In limited situations, teachers and authorised staff members can:
- get you to hand over an item and confiscate it
- search your clothing, bags and other containers (like a lunchbox or pencil case)
Teachers must have “reasonable grounds” to search you (see below).
Teachers and staff are given these powers by the Education and Training Act.
Can my teacher make me hand over something that belongs to me, like my phone?
A teacher can make you hand over an item if they believe (on “reasonable grounds”) that you have something that is likely to:
- endanger someone’s safety, or
- have a negative or disruptive effect on the school’s learning environment.
- The teacher can only do this if:
- you have the item in clear view, or
- they think (for a good reason) you’re hiding it in your pockets or somewhere else on you, or in a bag or container.
If the item (like a picture) is on your computer or phone, the teacher can get you to show them the item or get you to hand over the device.
The teacher can’t search you directly, or use any physical force. If you refuse to hand over the item, the school can take reasonable disciplinary steps.
Can a teacher search my clothing and bags?
Only if they think (on reasonable grounds) that you have something harmful. If you refuse to hand it over when asked, the teacher can require you to:
- take off any outer clothing you’re wearing (including a coat, jacket, jumper or cardigan)
- take off your shoes and socks (but not tights or stockings)
- hand over the bag or other container.
- The teacher can then search the clothing, footwear, bag or container. The teacher can’t search any clothing while you’re still wearing it.
They have to immediately return your clothing, footwear, bag or container to you, even if they find something.
If you don’t remove outer clothing or hand over your bag, the school can discipline you.
An item is considered “harmful” if it is an immediate threat to anyone’s safety (including their emotional safety).
What does “reasonable grounds” mean?
A teacher or authorised staff member must have a proper reason to believe that you have something harmful before they can search you. They don’t need to be absolutely sure.
What’s reasonable will depend on the situation, and on the type of item the teacher thinks you have.
For example, reasonable grounds can be based on information from other students. However, it wouldn’t be reasonable for a teacher to make assumptions based on what you’ve done in the past. Even if they’ve found a harmful item on you before, they can’t use this as grounds for searching your clothes if they have no other reason to.
Can the school strip-search me?
No. You can be asked to remove your outer clothing (for example a hoodie) or to hand over a bag (see above).
Can a school do blanket searches of whole classes or groups of students?
No, teachers can’t do blanket searches. A blanket search is when, for example, everyone in the class or year group is searched to find an item.
For a teacher to be able to use the power to search students’ outer clothing or bags for harmful items, the teacher would need to have “reasonable grounds” to believe that each student had a harmful item. For example, if something has apparently been stolen, the school can’t do a blanket search (even for a harmful item).
Can my school search my desk or locker?
Yes. A school can search its own property at any time for any reason. This includes lockers and desks given to you for storage, like lockers and desks.
The terms and conditions about the use of lockers should state that the school can search your locker and any bag or container in it.
This doesn’t mean that a school can search your bag whenever you leave it somewhere like a hook in the changing room during PE class. Your bag can only be searched if a teacher reasonably believes it contains a harmful item.
If you don’t want your school to be able to search your bag at any time, it’s best not to leave it unattended in a school-provided storage area.
My school has a policy that says students and their property can be searched at any time by school staff – is this legal?
No. Teachers and authorised staff can only search you if they follow the laws in the Education and Training Act. See “Can my teacher make me hand over something that belongs to me, like my phone?” above
You can’t be asked to give your consent to something that’s outside those powers (like a strip search). However, if you freely volunteer to empty your bag (for example, because you’re keen to prove you’re innocent), then that’s fine.
The school might say that by being enrolled at the school, you and your parents or guardians have agreed to this policy. This is incorrect because schools can’t adopt policies that go against New Zealand law.
Police search powers
The laws on searches and confiscations in schools don’t affect the powers that the police have to search you. If you have something harmful, like a knife, the school can involve the police and supervise you until they arrive.
If you leave schools grounds in the meantime, the school can discipline you and you’ll be considered “truant” (wagging school).
The police can carry out searches if they follow the law, and it is reasonable to search you. This will depend on the circumstances. The police can’t carry out “blanket searches” of whole groups or classes of students.
The police usually need your consent to search you, but can search you without your consent if they think you have a controlled drug (e.g. cannabis or MDMA).
If you think a search was carried out by the police roughly or without good reason, you should complain to the Independent Police Conduct Authority – go to www.ipca.govt.nz/Site/complaints
For more information, see “Search powers: When the police can search you, your home or your things” in the Community Law Manual
Can the school call in drug-sniffing dogs to do a general search for drugs?
Yes, the school can bring in dogs to search desks, lockers and other school property. The school can’t use dogs to search you personally.
The police can use drug-sniffing dogs to search students if they have a reasonable suspicion that there are drugs involved, or if they have a search warrant issued by a court.
Can a school drug-test students?
Random drug testing of students isn’t allowed.
If you’ve been suspended, the school board can place “reasonable conditions” on you when you return to school. This can include getting you to participate in a drug treatment programme that includes testing for drugs.
Students can also freely agree to be tested for drugs.