Va. Politics: Teachers may confiscate phones, read texts, Cuccinelli says

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By Rosalind S. Helderman
Wednesday, November 24, 2010; 1:51 PM

A warning to the school children of Virginia: Yes, your teacher can confiscate your cellphone or laptop computer.

That's according to a legal opinion issued Wednesday by Virginia Attorney Gen. Ken Cuccinelli (R), who found that teachers can not only take the devices, but they can review text messages or e-mails if they have "reasonable suspicion" that students have been violating the law or school rules.

He issued the opinion in response to a request from Del. Robert B. Bell (R-Charlottesville), who inquired whether teachers can take cellphones in instances where other students have complained they were victims of cyberbullying.

Cuccinelli also opined that if a teacher finds sexually explicit material on a student's cellphone that involves minors (say, the student was "sexting" with the phone), the teacher should turn those photos over to law enforcement.

Sharing the photos with other teachers or with the school principal -- even if for purposes of disciplining the students involved -- could get the teacher in trouble for distributing child pornography, Cuccinelli writes. (He notes that nothing prevents teachers from discussing what they saw on a cellphone with a principal.)

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