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New Jersey v. T.L.O.

This Fourth Amendment activity raises the same question as in the landmark Supreme Court case New Jersey v. T.L.O.: Can a school search a student’s backpack? The fictional scenario is based on the discovery of vaping materials during the search of an underage student’s backpack.

Although New Jersey v. T.L.O. was decided in 1985, it still has an impact on every student who brings a purse or backpack to school.

The landmark case involved a high school girl who, because she was a juvenile at the time, was referred to in court and in court records by her initials – T.L.O. When she denied an allegation that she was smoking in the restroom, a school official searched her purse and found cigarettes and marijuana paraphernalia.

What’s Different About This Activity?
  • Teaches a Landmark Case and Makes It Relevant
  • Incorporates the Teen Vaping Craze
  • Ready in 30 Minutes
  • Involves Every Learning Style
  • Centerpiece is Jury Deliberations

In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the school’s search was reasonable and had not violated T.L.O.’s Fourth Amendment rights.  The Court decided that students in primary and secondary school should not have the same level of search and seizure protection as adults and as juveniles in non-school settings.

The court simulation in this activity uses a fictional scenario that is updated to include the discovery of vaping materials in the backpack of an underage student. The scenario raises questions that can have an impact on students regardless of whether they vape at school or not.

How to Use These Resources

Start with the Activity Download and print the handouts for the adults and students.

  1. To start, the leader/facilitator goes over the proposed agenda with the participants.
  2. An attorney volunteer presents the facts and case summary.
  3. An attorney volunteer presents the fictional scenario.

Preparation of Four Student Attorneys

Students volunteer or are selected in the courtroom by a teacher:

  • Assign two opposing teams of student attorneys – two on each team. One team represents the school. One team represents the student. These teams need the scripted opening protocol and the suggested talking points documents.
  • During the preparation period at the courthouse, have each team practice the talking points. They are suggested points for the oral arguments – not a script. Student attorneys are encouraged to modify the points.
  • Just before returning to the courtroom, have students practice the scripted opening protocol. One team represents the school. One team represents the student. 

Preparation of the Student Jurors – All Other Students

  • While the student attorneys practice, all other students stay in the courtroom. They work with their two attorney volunteers to prepare for listening to and deliberating on the issues after oral arguments. Jury deliberations happen in the gallery of courtroom after the student attorneys present their arguments
  • Preparation: 

During the Hearing

  • The hearing starts with the judge and student attorneys reading the scripted opening protocol out loud, then they begin the oral arguments.
  • After the oral arguments, the judge gives the jury instructions.
  • Jurors deliberate in open court as the judge, student attorneys, and adult attorney volunteers observe without participating. Due to time constraints, the jury does not have to come to a unanimous verdict.
  • The facilitator guides the deliberations and, when they wind down, the facilitator asks the judge to take a show-of-hands vote.