Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Strip Searching Juveniles At School

Strip-Search Case Tests Limit of School Policy:

SAFFORD, Ariz. — Savana Redding still remembers the clothes she had on — black stretch pants with butterfly patches and a pink T-shirt — the day school officials here forced her to strip six years ago. She was 13 and in eighth grade.

An assistant principal, enforcing the school’s antidrug policies, suspected her of having brought prescription-strength ibuprofen pills to school. One of the pills is as strong as two Advils.

Lawyers for the school district said in a brief that it was “on the front lines of a decades-long struggle against drug abuse among students.”
Er, the "front lines of a decades-long struggle against" Advil?

The search by two female school employees was methodical and humiliating, Ms. Redding said. After she had stripped to her underwear, “they asked me to pull out my bra and move it from side to side,” she said. “They made me open my legs and pull out my underwear.”

Ms. Redding, an honors student, had no pills. But she had a furious mother and a lawyer, and now her case has reached the Supreme Court, which will hear arguments on April 21.

The case will require the justices to consider the thorny question of just how much leeway school officials should have in policing zero-tolerance policies for drugs and violence, and the court is likely to provide important guidance to schools around the nation.

In Ms. Redding’s case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, ruled that school officials had violated the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches. Writing for the majority, Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw said, “It does not require a constitutional scholar to conclude that a nude search of a 13-year-old child is an invasion of constitutional rights.”

“More than that,” Judge Wardlaw added, “it is a violation of any known principle of human dignity.”
Not to mention pornographic and borderline child molestation.

As mentioned in the article, the last case on this subject the court decided was more than 20 years ago, New Jersey v. T.L.O. (1985). In it, the court wrote when juveniles are in school, they are subject to the philosophy of "in loco parentis," which asserts school officials take the place of parents and as such can claim parental immunity from 4th amendment limitations regarding unreasonable searches and seizures.

The decision was limited to searching student lockers, book bags, purses and, in limited cases, pat downs of students, but it never addressed the issue of "full body cavity searches" of adolescents. One would assume it never crossed a decent-thinking person's mind.

But given our "get tough" myopia with juveniles today, we are apparently engaging in such searches at school. And while it seems like a slam-dunk case for the plaintiffs in this matter, I wouldn't be so sure.

Beginning in 1995, the court issued a string of decisions regarding drug testing of students in school (Veronia School District v. Acton, 1995, and Board of Education v. Earls, et al., 2002). In those cases, the court allowed for random drug testing of student athletes and any student involved in any extracurricular activities (we need to keep an eye on those Chess Club heroin freaks, one would assume).

And this current court, in Morse v. Frederick (2007), limited students' 1st amendment freedom of expression at school when "such expression contributes to the dangers" of drugs, (this was the infamous "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" case).

The oral arguments on the 21st of April should be closely watched. Given the court's anti-drug, anti-juvenile streak of late, it wouldn't surprise me if strip searching juveniles gets the green light.

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