Justices hear arguments over school strip search

Yet, if the court strikes it down and also holds school administrators financially responsible, as Savana Redding and her mother want, the decision could produce a new wariness among administrators.

Francisco Negrón, general counsel of the National School Boards Association, which is siding with the Safford officials, says if the high court holds district officials liable it will restrain administrators who need flexibility to deal with problems.

"I don't think it (a strip search) is the preferred method," Negrón says, "but it may be in certain circumstances."

The case, coming to the justices a day after the 10-year anniversary of the Columbine school shootings, occurs in a broader context of schools trying to balance student freedom with discipline. In some cases, administrators are resorting to "zero-tolerance" rules that impose strict punishments for a variety of transgressions.

"After Columbine, schools became more rigid," Redfield says. "But we did have some backlash against zero-tolerance policies, and there are now less absolute policies in schools."

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