Six years ago, school officials in Stafford, Arizona strip searched a 13-year-old girl after another student said she had ibuprofen. Next month, the Supreme Court will rule on whether such measures violate students' privacy.
Savana Redding was 13 when an assistant principal ordered that she be strip-searched after another student accused her of having prescription-strength ibuprofen pills in violation of the school's anti-drug policy. The New York Times reports that without asking Redding if she had any pills, the school nurse and secretary proceeded with a search:
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."
The school nurse said in a sworn statement that Redding "never appeared apprehensive or embarrassed," but the girl said she kept her head down so they wouldn't see she was about to cry. The search turned up no pills, but Redding stayed home for months and eventually transferred to another school. "I never wanted to see the secretary or the nurse ever again," she said.
Redding's mother sued the school and now the case has made its way to the Supreme Court, which will hear arguments on April 21. The court's ruling is likely to provide new guidelines for schools across the country on how far they can go to enforce school policies. The Supreme Court hasn't made a decision on schools searching students based on individual suspicion since 1985, when it ruled that school officials could search a student's purse as long as their suspicions were reasonable.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that Stafford school officials violated the Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches. 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." But in his dissenting opinion, Jude Michael Daly Hawkins wrote, "I do not think it was unreasonable for school officials, acting in good faith, to conduct the search in an effort to obviate a potential threat to the health and safety of their students."
Redding, who is now 19, says that fighting between middle-school cliques was behind the incident. Redding said that she was "nerdy and preppy" and when a childhood friend "started acting weird and wearing black," the friend "started being embarrassed by me because I was nerdy." When the friend was found with ibuprofen pills, she said she got them from Redding and the assistant principal ordered strip searches of both girls.
In a brief, the school district cited statistics saying the abuse of prescription drugs is on the rise among 12 and 13-year-olds, therefore the search was "not excessively intrusive in light of Redding's age and sex and the nature of her suspected infraction." Redding says the school should have taken into account that she had no disciplinary record, but the district says that doesn't matter. "Her assertion should not be misread to infer that she never broke school rules," said the district in the brief, "only that she was never caught."
[Image via Flickr.]
Strip-Search of Girl Tests Limit of School Policy [The New York Times]