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Saturday, June 22, 2024 | Back issues
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School Sued for Searching Kid’s Cell Phone

HOUSTON (CN) - A school district violated an eighth-grade girl's civil rights and its own policies when it seized a cell phone from her, searched it, and punished her after finding "inappropriate" pictures on it, the girl and her mom say. The mother says the cell phone was hers, and the school had no right to search it.

The federal complaint does not specify the nature of the "inappropriate" pictures, nor how they got into the cell phone. But the mom, Jennifer Mendoza, says Klein Independent School District officials violated their own policies by searching the contents of the phone, and putting her daughter into an alternative learning program which will set back her studies.

The complaint states: "According to the Klein ISD's cellular phone policy, 'If a student is using any cell phone or pager during the school day, or on a school bus to and from school, the school employee observing the student's use of the device will confiscate it. The school employee is to turn over the device to his or her administrator/supervisor. The parent will be notified by the administrator to pick up the device at his/her during school hours after the payment of a $15 administration fee."

Mendoza says assistant principal Stephanie Langner confiscated the phone because Mendoza's daughter was showing a text message to a classmate. But instead of confiscating it notifying the mother, Langner "proceeded to unlawfully search the contents of the phone."

The mom claims that, "At no time did [her daughter's] action create a disturbance or unsafe environment at school."

The mom claims that school officials held a hearing without notifying her, in violation of due process, and principal Scott Crowe punished her daughter by assigning her to the "District's Alternative Education Program (DAEP) for 30 days," according to the complaint.

The mom adds: "The DAEP does not offer the same advanced curriculum that [her daughter] is currently taking; thus she will suffer a significant setback in her current studies and potential grade points."

She appealed the district's ruling but it wouldn't budge, the mom says.

The Mendozas want the district enjoined from assigning the girl to the DAEP, and they want any negative information removed from her file if it was gained by "unlawful search and seizure." And they want the district enjoined from searching students' cell phones without probable cause.

They are represented by David Manley of Cypress, Texas.

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