Supreme Court Takes Middle School Strip Search Case

More than a year ago, I wrote about an Arizona middle school student who was strip searched by school officials after being caught with Advil, a legal non-prescription, over-the-counter pain reliever, in her possession.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case and determine whether her parents can pursue a claim against the school district:

The strip-search case was brought by the mother of Savana Redding, who in 2003 was an eighth-grade student at a public middle school in Safford, Ariz. Another student, found with ibuprofen pills in violation of a strict school policy, said Savana had given them to her.

School officials searched Savana’s belongings, made her strip to her bra and underwear, and ordered her, in the words of an appeals court, “to pull her bra out to the side and shake it” and “pull out her underwear at the crotch and shake it.” No pills were found. The pills that prompted the search had the potency of two over-the-counter Advil capsules.

A trial judge dismissed the parent’s case against the school officials, ruling that they were immune from suit. After a divided panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed that decision, the full appeals court agreed to a rehearing. By 6 to 5, a larger panel of the court reversed the decision, saying the suit could go forward against the assistant principal who had ordered the search.

“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 of some magnitude,” Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw wrote for the majority, quoting a decision in another case. “More than that: it is a violation of any known principle of human dignity.”

Judge Michael Daly Hawkins, dissenting, said the case was in some ways “a close call,” given the “humiliation and degradation” Savana had endured. But, Judge Hawkins concluded, “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.”

“I would find this search constitutional,” he wrote, “and would certainly forgive the Safford officials’ mistake as reasonable.”

The more important question, though, is what business school officials had in conducting a strip search to begin with. Isn’t that something that should have been done by a police officer with a search warrant issued on probable cause ?

  • Akston

    And OVER TWO ADVIL??!! Yeah. That’s reasonable.

  • JackAcid

    Holly crap! A kid being strip searched? Was this with or without police presence? I remember when I was in school I told the principal to shove it up his bum when he threatened to paddle me over calling a teacher a bitch. The kid could’ve demanded police. Parents need to use this as an example of when to tell administration to shove it.

    If this were to have happened to my kid, I can assure you, there would be people in jail over that. I don’t like to see anyone loose a job or get in trouble over being concerned for the wellbeing of their students, but this went WAY too far. It went well beyond concern to outright paranoia. It was ibuprofen for goodness sake!

    I did know someone who had a prescription for aspirin gum and was given a three day suspension for having ‘drugs’ and gum in school. That was in ’84.

    Did the school administration even contact the kids parents? Did they even offer to call police? did this kid have ANY choice in the matter? I’d love to see the school policy that says it’s OK to do this.

  • Peter

    What I do not understand is how the case got thrown out because the officials were “immune from suit”. Nobody should be immune from suit, escpecially school officials. They should be under strict scrutiny at all times.

  • kent beuchert

    Could someone explain the prohibition of either Advil or ibuprofen in schools? What!?!?!

  • Monkt

    From the 13 year old’s statement:
    “I was embarrassed and scared, but I felt I would be in more trouble if I did not do what they asked. I held my head down so that they could not see that I was about to cry.”

    That is rape plain and simple.