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Government & Politics

Ohio Supreme Court Says Searches of High School Students' Backpacks Are Legal

photo of Whetstone High School
A 2013 search of a student's bag at Whetstone High School uncovered a gun.

The Ohio Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that a student’s constitutional rights were not violated by a search of an unattended book bag that led to the discovery of a gun.

In 2013, officials at Columbus’ Whetstone High School found a gun in 18-year-old Joshua Polk’s backpack. They were led to Polk after first finding bullets and an item that had Polk’s name on it in another bookbag left on a school bus.

Polk’s lawyer had sought to have the search of that first bag thrown out. But Franklin County Assistant Prosecutor Seth Gilbert told the justices last month it was perfectly legal.

“Schools have a heightened interest to maintain safety. Students have a reduced expectation of privacy. It doesn’t matter what the subjective motives are," Gilbert said.

Justice Sharon Kennedy wrote for the unanimous court that a compelling interest in protecting students makes Whetstone’s unwritten policy to search all unattended bags reasonable.