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Strip-searching teenage girls in school?

March 25, 2009

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posted at 2:57 pm on March 24, 2009 by Ed Morrissey
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The Supreme Court will get a chance to determine whether schools acting in loco parentis have the right to strip-search students in ways that could get parents a visit from Child Services.  Tom Maguire highlights the case of School Officials Gone Wild, who demanded that a 13-year-old girl display her genitalia to a school nurse and a school secretary to ensure that she had no drugs on her.  What were they hoping to find, besides a lawsuit?  You’re not going to believe it:

Savana Redding still remembers the clothes she had on — black stretch pants with butterfly patches and a pink T-shirt — the day school officials here forced her to strip six years ago. She was 13 and in eighth grade.

An assistant principal, enforcing the school’s antidrug policies, suspected her of having brought prescription-strength ibuprofen pills to school. One of the pills is as strong as two Advils.

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.”

Ms. Redding, an honors student, had no pills. But she had a furious mother and a lawyer, and now her case has reached the Supreme Court, which will hear arguments on April 21.

The best part of the story?  The school officials never bothered to ask her if she had pills on her before the strip search.  They just took her aside and had the nurse and a clerk force her to strip.

Maybe Redding was a bad kid with a track record of disciplinary problems?  Well, no, she wasn’t.  In fact, before the strip search, she had no record of disciplinary problems at all.  When her lawyers pointed this out in court documents, the district acknowledged the lack of a disciplinary record, but said that the inference should have been that she’d just been masterful at avoiding getting caught. They also defended themselves by claiming to have heard rumors that Redding had drunk alcohol at a party, but the court documents show that the person starting the rumor hadn’t attended the event.

Quite frankly, I’m not surprised that the school district has appealed their loss to the Supreme Court, because they appear consistently too stupid to know when to stop.

In this case, the ACLU (which is supporting Redding) has it right.  The school acts in loco parentis, not in loco law enforcement.  They had no probable cause to do a strip search of the student, and even more basically, have no right to force students into strip searches in the first place.  They never tried contacting Redding’s mother or the police.  The school was so horrified by the thought that this student, who had never caused them problems before, might have ibuprofen that they decided to act like storm troopers rather than a school.

The question won’t be whether Redding will win.  It will be whether it goes 9-0 in her favor. I’d put that at even money.

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