Surrender and retention of property and searches - guidelines

All schools have to provide a safe physical and emotional environment for students and staff. Schools can search and confiscate student property providing you comply with the legislation and you can justify your actions as reasonable and necessary to keep the environment safe.

About the guidelines

Our Guidelines for the surrender and retention of property and searches [PDF, 983 KB] are to help you if you are faced with a situation where the safety of students, staff or the school is compromised and you are considering searching or confiscating student property. These are guidelines only, not a reference manual.

What’s in the guidelines

The guidelines:

  • describe the responsibilities of Boards of Trustees
  • explain the legislation and processes
  • address particular issues in detail and outline some scenarios
  • include a checklist for schools and links to related resources.

The Guidelines are intended as a resource to assist principals and Boards to deal with situations where the safety of students, staff and school is compromised.

There is no definitive way to deal with each and every scenario. Often the circumstances will be straight-forward and responses will be routine, but there will be occasions when your best course of action is not obvious. Look to your own experience and exercise judgement based on what is reasonable in the circumstances.


The guidelines are based on 4 principles:

Principle 1: All schools are required to provide a safe physical and emotional environment for students and staff. A safe environment for students and staff is of paramount importance and therefore must be given primacy when applying the guidelines. National Administration Guideline 5 and other legislation clearly establish this.

Principle 2: Parents, students and the public will have a legitimate expectation that the school environment will be free from drugs, weapons, alcohol and cyber bullying. They will expect schools to develop a written policy and procedure on surrender and retention and to advise them accordingly. Schools must be mindful of these expectations.

Principle 3: Parliament has given new powers and clarified the law in relation to searches and retaining student property. In exercising these powers, schools must act reasonably, in good faith and in the least intrusive manner to achieve a safe environment.

Principle 4: Students are protected under Section 21 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, which states “Everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure, whether of the person, property or correspondence or otherwise”. This section does not prohibit searches or seizure of student property but schools must be able to justify their actions as reasonable and necessary to maintain a safe environment.

Digital technology guide for schools

The Digital technology guide for schools tells  school staff what they can and can’t do, and it gives some ideas about how to create a safe digital environment. Go to the Digital techology guide for schools.


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