How to Strip Search a Middle School Student

Once again public school administrators, in their infinite wisdom and finely honed reasoning that only a Ph.D. can provide, have decided to strip search a 13 year old girl in the timeless pursuit of prescription-strength ibuprofen. And once again, a United States court of appeals has determined that this is unconstitutional.

According to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in Redding v. Safford Unified School Dist. #1, the strip search of honor student Savana Redding “was neither ‘justified at its inception,’ nor, as a grossly intrusive search of a middle school girl to locate pills with the potency of two over-the-counter Advil capsules, ‘reasonably related in scope to the circumstances’ giving rise to its initiation.”
In this case the Ninth Circuit, sitting en banc, overruled a three judge panel of the court which had found no constitutional violation. The court held that:

[this] court made it clear that while it did not require school officials to apply a probable cause standard to a purse search, it plainly required them to act “according to the dictates of reason and common sense.” . . . the public school officials who strip searched Savana acted contrary to all reason and common sense as they trampled over her legitimate and substantial interests in privacy and security of her person.”

The court cited from cases which limit strip searches of adult prisoners finding that,
as the Supreme Court has noted: “[Y]outh is more than a chronological fact. It is a time and condition of life when a person may be most susceptible to influence and to psychological damage.” As adolescents enter puberty, “they become more conscious of their bodies and self-conscious about them. Consequently, the potential for a search to cause embarrassment and humiliation increases as children grow older. . . . [N]o one would seriously dispute that a nude search of a child is traumatic.”

Giving credit where credit is due, our friends at the National Association of Social Workers, in their amicus brief, perhaps said it best:

“Clinical evaluations of the [young] victims of strip searches indicate that they can result in serious emotional damage, including the development of, or increase in, oppositional behavior.” . . . “Psychological experts have also testified that victims often suffered post-search symptoms including sleep disturbance, recurrent and intrusive recollections of the event, inability to concentrate, anxiety, depression and development of phobic reactions, and that some victims have been moved to attempt suicide.” . . . Moreover, that the student is “viewed rather than touched, do[es] not diminish the trauma experienced by the child.”

The court concluded that “the overzealousness of school administrators in efforts to protect students has the tragic impact of traumatizing those they claim to serve. And all this to find prescription-strength ibuprofen pills. We reject Safford’s effort to lump together these run-of-the-mill anti-inflammatory pills with the evocative term ‘prescription
drugs,’ in a knowing effort to shield an imprudent strip search of a young girl behind a larger war against drugs.”

Finally, the court reminded us that “a school is not a prison; the students are not inmates. We hasten to note, however, that if Savana had been accused of a federal crime, she would have been entitled to more legal protections that she received here.”

So how do you strip search a middle school student? Simply said, you don’t.

1 Reply to "How to Strip Search a Middle School Student"

  • Jake Terpstra
    July 18, 2008 (12:22 am)

    Sometimes courts aren’t the best protectors of children and their rights, but occasionaly they are the only protestors, when others who are reaponsile for childen lose all sense of decency and propriety. Thank goodness for sensible judges.