Public Resources

Law in Society Competition Hypothetical - 2016

Open Secret

Rocktown High School is an excellent school that is known for producing graduating classes full of successful, very competitive, college-bound scholars. Each year, the school administers a test to students in its Advanced Placement History Class to help prepare them for the national AP examination. The test also serves as the final exam for the class. The AP History teacher, Mr. Robinson, changes the specific questions every year but knows from past experience how well the students are likely to do on the exam.

This year, the exam scores unexpectedly are extremely high. A very large group of students does exceptionally well on the test, missing only a couple of the questions – often, the same questions. The school is suspicious that some type of cheating has occurred, and begins asking questions. One day, a student who is friendly with a teacher tells her confidentially that she heard a student had stolen the test in advance and circulated it to students in the AP History class through a secret group on a social media site. The teacher tells the principal, Mrs. Smith, who summons Britney Sullivan to her office.

Britney has been in trouble for breaking rules before, and she is in the AP History class. Mrs. Smith tells Britney that she is sure that Britney was involved in the recent cheating on the AP History exam, and she is going to suspend Britney unless she goes online in front of Mrs. Smith and reveals the secret group. Britney logs on to the group for Mrs. Smith, since she is afraid of being suspended during her senior year and ruining her college plans. Mrs. Smith confirms the posting of the exam questions on the group page and takes screen shots of the discussion, including references to taking the conversation offline and continuing it through text messages.

Mrs. Smith finds Dave Osborne, another student who is in the AP History class and who was part of the group’s discussion thread. Mrs. Smith confronts Dave and tells him she knows he was part of the group who cheated on the AP History final exam. She tells him he is in serious trouble and demands that he hand over his cell phone and show text messages to her. He does so and, by reading the messages, Mrs. Smith is able to track down all of the students who were discussing the exam’s essay answers. All of the students involved in the incident are expelled from school.


  1. Can a school administrator demand that a student share her list of “friends” on a social media site, if the school suspects the student was involved in a serious incident such as cheating on an exam?
  2. Can a school administrator or teacher demand that a student surrender his or her cell phone while on school property, and share private text messages? Do students have a right to privacy in a school setting, when serious misbehavior is suspected? Does the answer differ if the text messages only occurred outside of school hours?
  1. Is there a better course of action the teacher and/or administration could take? What is it and why would it be better?
Updated: Sep 03, 2015