When school nursing and student privacy laws clash

School nursing is an area of practice that is unique, complex and challenging.

It is often practiced without immediate in-person consultation and support, and is governed by both state and federal laws.

I have highlighted these issues in former blogs, and allegations that the nursing care provided by a school nurse was negligent.

For those of you who practice school nursing in a public institution, another important part of your practice is protecting a student’s privacy.

This duty stems not only from federal and state statutes — such as the state school code and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) — but also from the protections afforded by the 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The essence of the amendment’s language is no person can be subject to an “unreasonable search or seizure” and a warrant for a search or seizure must be based on “probable cause.”

Many court decisions have applied protections to these student in public institutions.

These decisions, in short, support the principle that any search or seizure in the school setting must be reasonable and based on all the circumstances surrounding the search and/or seizure. A search must not be excessively intrusive in light of the student’s age, sex and the nature of the suspected infraction.

Over the years, courts have further defined the privacy protections granted students as the culture of drugs and alcohol have seeped into the school setting.

Case illustrates when a school search is unreasonable

In one particular decision involving a school nurse, the United States Supreme Court granted the appeal of a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision dealing with a strip search of a middle school female student.

The school district had a policy that no prescription or over-the-counter drugs could be brought onto its campus without prior permission.

An eighth-grade female student was asked to come to the assistant principal’s office and, upon arriving, noticed a planner that was on his desk that was lent to another female classmate. Objects that she had not seen prior to her meeting with the assistant principal included knives, a lighter and a cigarette.

The student admitted the planner was hers but the objects in it were not. The assistant principal then drew her attention to a few “small white ibuprofen pills” on the desk. The student said she had never seen the pills before and had never brought any pills onto the campus nor did she provide fellow students with pills.

The assistant principal then searched her backpack with the help of a female administrative assistant. Finding nothing, he then instructed the assistant to take the student to the school nurse’s office for a second, more thorough search.

The school nurse and the assistant then conducted what has been termed a “strip search.” The student was required to peel off each layer of clothing, including her socks, T-shirt and stretch pants. Nothing was found.

Despite the student’s insistence that she had no pills, she was then required to pull her bra “out to the side” and shake it. The student’s …read more

Read full article here: nurse.com