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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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