June 19, 2024

Strip Searching A Child – What Were They Thinking?

Power Mad Officials Go To Far

The Supreme Court recently found that the constitutional rights of a 13 year old female child had been violated by an overzealous Arizona school administration that forced the child to submit to a humiliating strip search.  Although not prohibiting schools from conducting future strip searches of children, the Court held that school officials must have “specific suspicions” before conducting a full body search.

Washington Post – A SUPREME COURT majority ruled yesterday that the 2003 in-school strip search of a 13-year-old student violated her constitutional rights against unreasonable search or seizure. As in many cases, how the justices got to this result is as important as the result itself; in this matter, a six-justice majority correctly balanced the privacy interests of the student with the need to preserve school officials’ flexibility to maintain order and safety.

Savana Redding was in middle school in Arizona when a classmate told school officials that she had gotten over-the-counter naproxen, an anti-inflammatory pill, and prescription-strength ibuprofen from Savana. The school had a no-tolerance policy on drugs and banned the possession even of nonprescription pain relievers without explicit permission. Although law enforcement officials must have “probable cause” to conduct a warrantless search, school officials are required only to have “reasonable suspicion.”

The Supreme Court agreed that the strip search violated the Constitution but wisely refused to embrace the 9th Circuit’s logic. Instead, the justices reaffirmed their earlier analysis that a search “will be permissible in its scope when the measures adopted are reasonably related to the objectives of the search and not excessively intrusive in light of the age and sex of the student and the nature of the infraction.” The invasiveness of a strip search, wrote Justice David Souter for the majority, requires that school officials have “specific suspicions” that the student is hiding contraband in undergarments.

It seems to me that when you giving a public official the power to detain and strip search someone based on “specific suspicions” (whatever that means) you will have situations where that power is abused.

We can all agree that schools should be drug free.  That being said, it seems absurd to treat school children like criminals if they are caught in possession of common aspirin or other harmless over the counter medications that all of us use without thinking twice. Perhaps our schools should be equally concerned with graduating high school  students who can read and write properly.

No where, in any of the press coverage on this Court decision, have I seen any mention of the role that parents should play in contributing to a safe school environment.  Sorry, but public employees should not and will not ever properly substitute for the role of responsible  parents in establishing proper conduct guidelines for their children. Prior to subjecting the child in question to a strip search, why were the parents not contacted to discuss the situation?    Let’ s hope the reason was not due to the hubris of school officials thinking that they can raise children better than the parents.

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