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    Teacher’s confiscation of student’s cell phone upheld

    Date: 03.31.10 | by Judge Tom.

    In the Fall of 2008, Anthony Koch attended Sylvan Hills High School in Arkansas. The school had a policy prohibiting cell phones in classrooms. Anthony violated the rule and his teacher, Nancy Adams, took his phone and turned it over to the principal.

    After two weeks, pursuant to the school’s policy, Anthony could have picked it up in the office. The school waited and after two more weeks of silence, they mailed the phone to his father. In the meantime, Anthony and his father sued* the teacher and principal claiming that his due process and property rights were violated. They claimed he wasn’t given a hearing on the matter and that no law allowed teachers to take student’s property.


    The case went to the Arkansas Supreme Court and in March, 2010, it ruled against Anthony. It stated that Arkansas law allows school districts to “prescribe minimum and maximum penalties, including students’ suspension or dismissal from school.”  The school is not limited to these penalties – certainly taking a student’s cell phone for a period of time falls within the statutory limits. As the U.S. Supreme Court has stated, courts hesitate to get involved in micro- managing schools unless a constitutional violation has occurred.

    Many middle and high schools across the country have cell phone policies in place. Look for the one that applies to you in your student handbook. It should include penalties for violation and how to get the phone back.

    *Koch v. Adams, 2010 Ark 131 (2010).

    Judge Tom

    This post was written by Judge Tom. Judge Tom is the founder and moderator of AsktheJudge.info. He is a retired juvenile judge and spent 23 years on the bench. He has written several books for lawyers and judges as well as teens and parents including the recently published 'Teen Cyberbullying Investigated' (Free Spirit Publishing). When he's not answering teens' questions, Judge Tom can be found hiking, traveling and reading.

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    8 Comments subscribe to these comments.

    • Christopher
      Fri, 02 Apr 2010 at 01:02

      Shame of you Arkansas. Shame on you. To violate rights, and uphold the violation in the highest court of a state is a sign of waning constitutional protection, and the slowly growing police state.

    • Jesse
      Fri, 02 Apr 2010 at 01:04

      Just what are the statutory limits on these penalties, and is there any requirement that they be related to the violation? For instance, would a school be allowed to impound a student’s car or confiscate his home computer for being late to class?
      This seems like a very disturbing precedent.
      Dear Jesse: Statutory limits on penalties for violations of the law are a state-by-state matter. Your state may not have a specific law regarding confiscation of a student’s property. Because courts prefer to stay away from micro-managing schools, a lot of the rules and policies are set by school districts. Check the school’s Student Handbook for their policy on electronic media devices on campus. Good luck.
      [This is information only – not legal advice].

    • NYRA
      Fri, 02 Apr 2010 at 06:42

      Boo. Hiss. http://askthejudge.info/teachers-confiscation-of-students-cell-phone-upheld/4584/ http://bit.ly/at7TCV

    • David Threlkeld
      Tue, 13 Apr 2010 at 02:24

      If the phone belongs to the parent and not the student as is probably majority the case, why is that not considered theft. I don’t have a problem with confiscating the cell phone for the day. My daughters fell out of her backpack, she was not using it, and it was confiscated. My daughter is 18, lives in a small town and I live an hour away. We have NO form of communication other than the phone. Would appear the liability for a school district and town if my daughter was stranded in her car and unable to reach help because they took her phone would be HUGE!!! Lets be reasonable instead of trying to push our weight around. I can understand if the child is using it or being disruptive, but just for having it in her backpack? Come on!! Where is reasonableness and common sense?
      Thanks, Mr. Threlkeld, for your thoughts on this. Maybe this matter can be resolved through a meeting with school personnel.

    • Heather
      Thu, 03 Jun 2010 at 11:16

      To take away a child’s property for more than a week that’s not dangerous is wrong and should be illegal!

    • Kelly
      Wed, 12 Jan 2011 at 08:47

      Seriously? So what you are all saying is that despite the issue that it is a known rule that cell phones are not allowed in school (for obvious reasons: Cheating on tests, not paying attention in school, etc.) it is okay for your child to do so because it is acceptable for them to break the rules? Maybe if they listened to the rules, such problems would not arise. And if they are old enough to drive, why can they not leave the phone in the glove compartment? It’s like telling your child to ignore the rules and not take responsibility for their own actions. Perhaps the matter should be directed to the CHILD who is in direct violation to the known POLICY, not the teacher who INFORCES the RULES.
      Thanks for your comments, Kelly.

      Thu, 13 Dec 2012 at 07:01

      i think that teachers should not be allowed to take students property with out written consent if you feel the same let me know
      In many schools when you sign for and receive the Student Handbook at the beginning of the school year, you have agreed to follow the rules set forth in the Handbook. These may include an “Acceptable Use Policy” regarding digital devices at school including cell phones, iPads, etc.

    • Maria
      Fri, 07 Jun 2013 at 03:39

      Once upon a time…. In a galaxy far far away cell phones didn’t exsist. The world was actually a safer place. Children had less distractions and people still seemed to be able to communicate with each other. Honestly when arguments like these are why there are so many brats out there. Their parents are encouraging this behavior. If my kid came crying to me about his cell phone being taken, because he took it out in class, I wouldn’t lift a finger to give it back to him for a good while. It’s called discipline. Try it out.

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