Go to School, Lose Your Rights?

March 25, 2009 | | Comments Off on Go to School, Lose Your Rights?

How far can public schools go in trying to enforce their anti-drug (or anti-weapon) policy?  That question is coming before the Supreme Court on April 21.  That particular case involves a 13-year-old girl who was strip-searched at her Arizona public middle school because she was suspected of having prescription strength ibuprofen.  Savana Redding was stripped down to her underwear and humiliated after another girl at the school was found with the drugs and named the girl as the source.  No drugs were found on her person or in her things.  The incident occurred six years ago.  Since then, the case has made it to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which subsequently ruled that the search violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable search and seizures.  The school district appeals, claiming that the search wasn’t unreasonable because of the girl’s age and “the nature of her suspected infraction”.  Certiorari was granted on January 16, 2009.  Redding is currently being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union.

How can a strip search of a 13 year old girl suspected of having ibuprofen be considered reasonable?  Especially when the only evidence the school had to suspect the girl of having the drugs was the word of another student who was herself in trouble.  She was essentially punished before she even had a chance to explain herself.  The last case the Supreme Court has ruled on about individual searches of students was in 1985, when it ruled that warrantless searches of students’ purses was permitted so long as the search was reasonable.    Searching purses is vastly different from strip-searching- while purses and their contents may have private and personal items to the owner, the student in question is not having their person inspected and the added element of humiliation isn’t so severe.   According to Redding’s affidavit, the search was “the most humiliating experience I have ever had”.  There is no reason why a middle school girl should have been humiliated on the accusations of others.

Not only was this girl embarrassed for no reason, her parents were not even informed of the events that transpired until AFTER the search.  Being upset, her mother spoke with the assistant principal, who apparently didn’t think the search was a big deal since no drugs turned up.  Why weren’t her parents informed of this incredibly invasive procedure before it happened?  At the very least, searches of this kind to minors should be done with a parent or guardian present.  Special protections should, and do, exist for minors.  Even if the Supreme Court rules that searches of this nature are permissible for students suspected (however far-fetched the suspicion may be) of carrying drugs or weapons on their person, a parent needs to know what is happening to his or her child.  Regardless, this case seems to be a violation of the Fourth Amendment, and hopefully the Supreme Court will rule as such.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user BMichelo.


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