Strip for the Principal

How could anyone think a strip search for Advil was reasonable?

"This is a difficult case," writes Judge Michael Hawkins, dissenting from a recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. That is not the way most people respond when they hear about Savana Redding, who was strip-searched in 2003, when she was 13, by Arizona public school officials looking for ibuprofen pills in her underwear.

Nor is it the way most of Hawkins' colleagues reacted. Eight of the 11 judges who heard the case agreed that Vice Principal Kerry Wilson's decision to order a "grossly intrusive search of a middle school girl to locate pills with the potency of two over-the-counter Advil capsules" violated Savana's Fourth Amendment rights.

But Hawkins' conclusion that the fruitless strip search was reasonable under the circumstances, an opinion shared by two of his 9th Circuit colleagues and the federal judge who first heard the case, shows Wilson is not alone in thinking that when it comes to preventing teenagers from using drugs, pretty much anything goes. The U.S. Supreme Court itself has come perilously close to endorsing that position.

In a 1985 decision upholding a high school principal's perusal of a purse belonging to a freshman who was caught smoking in the girls' room (a search that found marijuana as well as cigarettes), the Court said public school officials, as agents of the government, are bound by the Fourth Amendment's prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures. But given the importance of maintaining order at school, it said, officials do not need a warrant or probable cause to search a student; it's enough that the search is "justified at its inception" and "reasonably related in scope to the circumstances which justified the interference."

In subsequent cases, the Court has indicated that a search can be deemed reasonable even when officials have no grounds to suspect a student has done anything wrong. In 1995 it upheld random drug testing of student athletes, and in 2002 it said that requirement could be extended to all students participating in extracurricular activities.

To justify compelling a student to urinate into a cup under a teacher's supervision and surrender the sample for laboratory analysis, the Court not only did not require any evidence that the student was using drugs; it did not require any evidence of a drug problem at the school. The fear of potential drug problem was enough, in its view, since "the nationwide drug epidemic makes the war against drugs a pressing concern in every school."

This pronouncement (which came at a time when illegal drug use among high school students was declining) would seem to justify random urine testing of all students, whether or not they join the football team or drama club. When anti-drug hysteria is so widespread that the nation's highest court suggests the crusade for pure bodily fluids trumps the Constitution, you can start to see how someone like Kerry Wilson might conclude that it was reasonable to make an honor student with a clean disciplinary record disrobe based on a fellow eighth-grader's uncorroborated accusation that she had brought unauthorized Advil to school.

The drug policy at Wilson's school, which bans even over-the-counter medication without advance approval, exemplifies the "zero tolerance" zealotry that has been embraced by schools throughout the country. According to advocates of this approach, preventing drug abuse is so important that schools should rigidly enforce clear, simple rules without regard to a student's intent or the danger he poses.

Combine this mind-set with a greenish light from the Supreme Court, and you may see extreme measures like strip searches deployed against trivial offenses like ibuprofen possession. As Judge Hawkins notes, the Supreme Court's test for student searches "eschews any clear rules in favor of a highly abstract balancing standard that is meant to reflect nothing more than 'the dictates of reason and common sense.'" The problem with this standard, as Kerry Wilson showed, is that common sense is not as common as it should be.

© Copyright 2008 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  • Mr. Burns||

    I don't understand how that guy wasn't beaten to death by an angry mob immediately after news of this went public. Perhaps if that starts happening, we'll see some improvement in school administration.

  • ||

    The only difficulty of this case is trying to come up with rationalizations for violating the perfectly clear language of the fourth and fifth amendments.

    Any judge who would vote in favor of the school administrators strip-searching a child to look for an over-the-counter drug should be impeached for violating his oath of office.

    -jcr

  • ||

    The drug crisis is routinely overstated. See this cartoon for an example:

    http://www.berrytoons.com/images/czar-1.jpg

  • Lajaw||

    Just another reason to exercise your own rights AND responsibilities by homeschooling.

  • JMR||

    Imagine a private school official doing the same search under the same conditions of extreme creepiness...
    JMR

  • Elemenope||

    JMR --

    You forget where you are. On H&R, private entities can violate peoples' rights...cause they can. Don't question.

  • ||

    This troubles me on so many levels. In my Rosy View of What School Should Be, kids would feel safe from intrusion of this sort and be trusted to administer their own head- or muscle-ache remedies (and they would be trusted to know how to take Tylenol or Advil properly). There is a list of about 14,872 other things that would Make School Awesome Instead of Hateful if I was able to change it all around.

    When I read about occurrences of this nature, I begin to question my ability to continue to work in the public school system. It's too much, and too dangerous, to fight from within.

  • ||

    LMNOP, private entities who violate a person's rights would be brought up on charges (or dealt with privately by the private-citizen defenders of the violated party).

    To JMRs point, I can imagine some pretty pissed-off parents bringing the hammer down (literally, perhaps?) on a private school adminstrator who treated a child like a criminal and violated his or her rights. Whether it be by legal or physical means, the administrator could/would be dealt with. I'm thinking job removal and black-listing in his career field would be a good way to deal with it.

    Try removing a public school principal or superintendent from his job for violating a student's Fourth Amendment rights (or any civil right). When boards and hysterical parents generally side with the decision made by principal, etc., you get perhaps an apology at best and business as usual to follow.

    A private school offers no such protections; if parents think an administrator is crappy, they take their kids (and money) away from the school and business crumbles. The private school's board would be wise to replace a crappy admin if they want to stay alive.

  • ||

    Hawkins' conclusion that the fruitless strip search was reasonable under the circumstances, an opinion shared by two of his 9th Circuit colleagues and the federal judge who first heard the case,

    Jesus I hate that word reasonable. Would a full cavity body search have been too intrusive? Is there any such thing for these people as unreasonable when it comes to drugs? Summary executions? Internment camps? Oh yeah, we have those already. We call them prisons.

    I don't understand how that guy wasn't beaten to death by an angry mob immediately after news of this went public.

    When this story previously appeared on this blog, someone had a great idea. Put up a bill board of this guys picture with the heading "I got to strip search a 13 year old little girl and keep my job. Call XXX-XXXX and I will tell you how." The number being to the School Board.

  • ||

    I would have considered beating the shit out of this guy but in Arizona, an assault against a teacher makes it an aggravated assault; a felony instead of a misdemeanor. Which is a really stupid law because I don't I want to be assault any more than a teacher.
    Maybe that is why this fuckhead didn't get gang raped like he should have.

  • ||

    Has the mania for drug testing finally gone too far?

    Drug testing went too far way back in 1982 when the U.S. Military started randomly testing servicemembers and prosecuting those that "failed".

    If you thought that was OK back then, why worry about little Janie having to piss in a bottle (under observation) because she's in the French club.

    You libertarians with that hackneyed slippery slope argument are so paranoid.

  • ||

    In fact if little Janie "fails" she should be prosecuted as well. Take her away from her irresponsible family and place her under a court supervised foster care setup. It's for the children.

  • Sam Grove||

    On H&R, private entities can violate peoples' rights...cause they can.

    Say what? Got any citations to back that up, or is it just your own mal-interpretation?

  • ||

    Anyone notice that even Judge Kozinski, who is considered a member of the libertarian wing of the federal judiciary, joined the dissent in allowing the search to take place?

  • ||

    Has the mania for drug testing finally gone too far?

    "Drug testing went too far way back in 1982 when the U.S. Military started randomly testing servicemembers and prosecuting those that "failed".

    If you thought that was OK back then, why worry about little Janie having to piss in a bottle (under observation) because she's in the French club.

    You libertarians with that hackneyed slippery slope argument are so paranoid."


    Not only are servicemembers prosecuted, they are persecuted for the chemical reactions inside their own (sovereign?) bodies.

    Chemistry does not equal character. We are more than the metabolytes contained or excreted by our bodies.

    How many of these crooked financial fucks who are raping our economy would piss clean on a drug test?

    The drug test does not indicate how honest a person is, or how hard working he is, it just states that he has ingested a substance which has been declared verboten by the state, nothing more.

    The war on some drugs is a witch hunt with better technology, but with the same bozos pulling the levers of power.

  • Paul||

    fellow eighth-grader's uncorroborated accusation that she had brought unauthorized Advil to school.

    Ahh, this is what it always comes down to, doesn't it?

    You forget where you are. On H&R, private entities can violate peoples' rights...cause they can. Don't question.

    Right, Walmart deciding not to carry a certain music CD is a violation of the first amendment. Riiiight.

  • ||

    "I got to strip search a 13 year old little girl and keep my job. "

    To be precise, he *ordered* a strip search of the girl, and the school nurse actually did it. The billboard needs to be scrupulously accurate.

    -jcr

  • ||

    MadBiker, you can thank those jackass parents who sue school nurses for giving their kids Pepto Bismol. Schools' hands are tied because they lose every time they are sued (and they are sued often), so they have to adopt a rule of least common denominator. Furthermore, schools are held responsible for not keeping Kid A from giving Tylenol to an allergic schoolmate, even though the school had nothing to do with the sharing of the pills.

    John C. Randolph, it wasn't even a "strip" search. The student was instructed to shake her bra and panties to see if any contraband fell out of them. She was never naked.

    I agree that, in an ideal world, kids should be able to administer their own over-the-counter medicine. Such would contradict the let's-protect-ourselves-from-ourselves mentality created by selfish, responsibility-avoiding, reactionarily overprotective Baby Boomers and a glut of lawyers fighting for work - a recipe for the complete abandonment of reason.

  • ||

    Drink!

  • ||

    This same act can get a guy convicted of molestation. However, school personnel are allowed to do strip-searching in the name of the War on Drugs? This is a very slippery slope as I could see a school official on a power-trip, who perhaps could be labeled pedophile, completely taking advantage of this authority to prey on school children. This should not be allowable under ANY circumstances. Create fear in order to erode our liberties - Drugs, terror, immigrants, etc.

  • JohnF||

    When our daughter, now in her mid-20s, was in grammar school and needed to take Tylenol or something similar, we sent her to grammar school with it, but she understood that she had to take it secretly.

    Otherwise, we would have had to get a doctor's prescription (for Tylenol!) and would have had to go to the principal's office -- at which time the Tylenol would have been handed to the nurse to administer.

    Our system worked fine, but all credit goes to our daughter for being discreet at age 10!!!

  • TPE||

    Darn kids getting high of of Advil, whats wrong with them today...

    Wait you mean they don't get you high...
    So she had them to what ? Cope with some form of pain so that she could pay attention in school.
    ...
    ...
    She should obviously go to jail.

    Ok now seriously, I hope her family presses charges and wins so very big.

  • ||

    Dude, this person would be absolutely cold and dead if this was my kid. Seriously this is grounds for killing someone in my opinion. And I'd plead temporary insanity to the murder charge, and walk a free man.

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