Should schools be allowed to strip-search students?

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse  June 25, 2009 02:40 PM

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

The US Supreme Court today ruled that a public school in Arizona in 2003 violated the privacy rights of one of its students when she was forced to undergo a strip-search after another student told school officials she had brought ibupofren pills to school.

According to Reuters, the assistant principal ordered a school nurse to search 13-year-old Savana Redding after another student said Redding had provided her with over-the-counter ibuprofen pills. Though the tips was unverified, and no pills were found in Redding's backpack or pockets, the 8th grader was made to remove her clothes, move her bra to the side and pull her underwear out, exposing her breasts and pelvic area to adults, to see if she was hiding any ibuprofen pills. No pills were found.

I understand the need to protect students, to ensure their health and safety, to eliminate the possiblity of drug abuse. But where do you draw the line?


The school's policy prohibits the use, possession or sale of any drug on school grounds, including prescription and over-the-counter medications. A week before the search, a student became sick after taking pills from a classmate and said certain students were bringing drugs to school. Which makes their reaction toward Redding and the possiblity that she had smuggled in some Advil a bit easier to understand, if not accept.

At the time, it probably looked as if the school officials were well within their rights to search Redding's belongings, if not her body. A 1985 Supreme Court decision that dealt with searching a student's purse has found that school officials need only reasonable suspicions, not probable cause. The court also warned against a search that is "excessively intrusive," though it did not specifically refer to strip searches.

Redding told the Associated Press that she was pleased with the Supreme Court's ruling. "I'm pretty excited about it, because that's what I wanted," she said. "I wanted to keep it from happening to anybody else."

The court ruled that Safford Unified School District officials would not be held financially liable for the situation. Justice Clarence Thomas, the only dissenter in the 8-to-1 vote, pointed out that the majority's decision could result in more cases of kids smuggling drugs into the classroom. "Redding would not have been the first person to conceal pills in her undergarments," he said. "Nor will she be the last after today's decision, which announces the safest place to secrete contraband in school."

Parents, what do you think? Should schools be allowed to strip search students for any reason? How should they determine which situations warrant an invasive search?

Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at lalphonse@globe.com.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

9 comments so far...
  1. Well that is an eye-catching headline! I think a strip search of a child by a school is going too far. I wonder, however, if the police get involved, for example, if someone suspects a child has brought a dangerous weapon to school, are they allowed to strip search?

    Posted by Jennifer B June 25, 09 03:57 PM
  1. Thomas, oy. I think Justice Souter laid out the determination pretty clearly.
    Basically, if the police wouldn't care about the accusation (2 advil) you can't strip search. I'll add, no strip searches on the basis of one "witness", especially one who was accused first and is getting free by pointing the finger at another student.
    And if some school ever tries to strip my daughter without informing me and allowing me to be there - well, I don't think they'll have to worry about defending their actions to anyone other than St. Peter.

    Posted by Lizzie June 25, 09 04:34 PM
  1. Wow, the rare instance of a Supreme Court decision favoring the rights of citizens over the arbitrariness of authoritarian government.
    Re. Thomas: Duh, what a shocker.

    Posted by No Bullroar June 25, 09 05:05 PM
  1. Sounds like a law was broken.
    Will the school nurse be charged or as per normal will the school be allowed to break laws as always? It makes me sick that this will be dropped. This is a case of a law being broken and the school not being held. As a father of 6 kids I saw many things I could not understand. Why are schools not being held to the standards the rest of us are held to?

    Posted by Jerry Allen June 25, 09 06:55 PM
  1. Of course not! That's what the police are for. If a school feels a student needs to be strip-searched, they should have the student arrested, contact the parent(s)/guardian(s), and let law enforcement handle it from there.

    Posted by Liz June 26, 09 02:26 AM
  1. I am very rarely in favor of extending all privacy rights to children/students. I do believe that backpacks and lockers should remain fair game for searches for weapons and drugs.

    But a strip search is so far out of bounds that it's appalling. First off, Ibuprofen?! Really?!?! Secondly...Ibuprofen???? A strip search over an OTC medication that the 13-y/o is perfectly within her legal rights to purchase at any store in this country?!!!!

    If I was that girl's mother, I'd be livid.

    And I think that a strip search for weapons and drugs is even going too far. A weapon is going to be hard to conceal so well that it would warrant a strip...and if drugs (actual drugs, not two da*n Advil) are suspected, then the school should have contacted the parents - and the police.

    Posted by phe June 26, 09 11:08 AM
  1. Schools need to be safe, but strip searching is not the answer. If the school calls the parent(s) in, and they consent, then that may be okay. Why couldn't the nurse do a "pat down" without removing clothing (similar to police searching for weapons on a clothed person)?

    Posted by Rosie Isat July 1, 09 10:04 AM
  1. I have a son who was stripe to see if he had any gang affilated tattos. I was told after the fact. the cop and school official conducted the search i was not contacted at the time.I believe his rights have been violated where do i turn

    Posted by lrichards April 22, 10 08:21 PM
  1. they totally should not

    Posted by kinky October 19, 10 01:28 PM
 
9 comments so far...
  1. Well that is an eye-catching headline! I think a strip search of a child by a school is going too far. I wonder, however, if the police get involved, for example, if someone suspects a child has brought a dangerous weapon to school, are they allowed to strip search?

    Posted by Jennifer B June 25, 09 03:57 PM
  1. Thomas, oy. I think Justice Souter laid out the determination pretty clearly.
    Basically, if the police wouldn't care about the accusation (2 advil) you can't strip search. I'll add, no strip searches on the basis of one "witness", especially one who was accused first and is getting free by pointing the finger at another student.
    And if some school ever tries to strip my daughter without informing me and allowing me to be there - well, I don't think they'll have to worry about defending their actions to anyone other than St. Peter.

    Posted by Lizzie June 25, 09 04:34 PM
  1. Wow, the rare instance of a Supreme Court decision favoring the rights of citizens over the arbitrariness of authoritarian government.
    Re. Thomas: Duh, what a shocker.

    Posted by No Bullroar June 25, 09 05:05 PM
  1. Sounds like a law was broken.
    Will the school nurse be charged or as per normal will the school be allowed to break laws as always? It makes me sick that this will be dropped. This is a case of a law being broken and the school not being held. As a father of 6 kids I saw many things I could not understand. Why are schools not being held to the standards the rest of us are held to?

    Posted by Jerry Allen June 25, 09 06:55 PM
  1. Of course not! That's what the police are for. If a school feels a student needs to be strip-searched, they should have the student arrested, contact the parent(s)/guardian(s), and let law enforcement handle it from there.

    Posted by Liz June 26, 09 02:26 AM
  1. I am very rarely in favor of extending all privacy rights to children/students. I do believe that backpacks and lockers should remain fair game for searches for weapons and drugs.

    But a strip search is so far out of bounds that it's appalling. First off, Ibuprofen?! Really?!?! Secondly...Ibuprofen???? A strip search over an OTC medication that the 13-y/o is perfectly within her legal rights to purchase at any store in this country?!!!!

    If I was that girl's mother, I'd be livid.

    And I think that a strip search for weapons and drugs is even going too far. A weapon is going to be hard to conceal so well that it would warrant a strip...and if drugs (actual drugs, not two da*n Advil) are suspected, then the school should have contacted the parents - and the police.

    Posted by phe June 26, 09 11:08 AM
  1. Schools need to be safe, but strip searching is not the answer. If the school calls the parent(s) in, and they consent, then that may be okay. Why couldn't the nurse do a "pat down" without removing clothing (similar to police searching for weapons on a clothed person)?

    Posted by Rosie Isat July 1, 09 10:04 AM
  1. I have a son who was stripe to see if he had any gang affilated tattos. I was told after the fact. the cop and school official conducted the search i was not contacted at the time.I believe his rights have been violated where do i turn

    Posted by lrichards April 22, 10 08:21 PM
  1. they totally should not

    Posted by kinky October 19, 10 01:28 PM
add your comment
Required
Required (will not be published)

This blogger might want to review your comment before posting it.

About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

Submit a question for Barbara's Mailbag


Ask Barbara a question

Barbara answers questions on a wide range of topics, including autism, breastfeeding, bullying, discipline, divorce, kindergarten, potty training, sleep, tantrums, and much, much more.

Send your questions to her at:
meltzbarbara (at) gmail.com.
Please include your name and hometown.

Child in Mind

Moms
All parenting discussions
Discussions

High needs/fussy baby

memes98 writes "My 10.5 month old DS has been fussy ever since he was born, but I am getting very frustrated because I thought he would be much better by now...has anyone else been through this?"

More community voices

Child in Mind

Corner Kicks

Dirty Old Boston

Mortal Matters

On Deck

TEDx Beacon Street

RSS feed


click here to subscribe to
Child Caring

archives