ERIC Number: EJ838686
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2009-Apr-29
Reference Count: N/A
Strip-Search Case Testing Balance between Privacy, Student Safety
Robelen, Erik W.
Education Week, v28 n30 p1, 14-15 Apr 2009
As it weighs the high-profile case of a 13-year-old girl strip-searched at school, the U.S. Supreme Court is grappling with where to draw the line between protecting student privacy rights and allowing school officials to take steps to ensure a safe environment. During oral arguments, several of the justices seemed sympathetic to the challenges schools face in combating drug use--the motive for the search in an Arizona district--but it remained unclear how far they might go in allowing administrators discretion to conduct strip-searches. The case, Safford Unified School District v. Redding (Case No. 08-479), presents two questions of keen interest to administrators: (1) whether school officials went too far in strip-searching the student; and (2) whether the official who ordered the search can be sued for damages as a result. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, in San Francisco, ruled 8-3 last July that school officials, acting "contrary to all reason and common sense," violated 8th grader Savana Redding's Fourth Amendment right to be free from an unreasonable search and seizure. The legal threshold is higher for a strip-search than for the search of a student's pockets or backpack, the appeals court reasoned, and the evidence presented in this case did not justify the more invasive search. In addition, by a vote of 6-5, the appeals court held that the assistant principal who ordered the strip-search was not entitled to "qualified immunity" from liability in the lawsuit. The case stems from a 2003 search at Safford Middle School in southeastern Arizona, which took place amid suspicion that Ms. Redding, an honors student, possessed prescription-strength ibuprofen tablets, a violation of the school's anti-drug policy. Ibuprofen is an anti-inflammatory drug used to relieve pain and fever. No such pills were found on Ms. Redding, who, at school officials' request, stripped down to her undergarments in the school nurse's office.
Descriptors: School Nurses, Drug Use, Search and Seizure, Privacy, Court Litigation, School Safety, Civil Rights
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: Arizona
Identifiers - Laws, Policies, & Programs: Fourth Amendment; New Jersey v TLO