High court weighs school strip search arguments
WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court seemed worried Tuesday about tying the hands of school officials looking for drugs and weapons on campus as they wrestled with the appropriateness of a strip-search of a girl accused of having prescription-strength ibuprofen.
Savana Redding was 13 when Safford, Ariz., Middle School officials, on a tip from another student, ordered her to remove her clothes and shake out her underwear looking for pills. The district bans prescription and over-the-counter drugs.
Her lawyer argued to the Supreme Court that such an "intrusive and traumatic" search would be unconstitutional in every circumstance if school administrators were not directly told the contraband was in her underwear.
"A school needs to have location-specific information" to put a child through such an embarrassing search, lawyer Adam Wolf said.
Would it be constitutional if officials were looking for weapons or drugs like crack, meth or heroin? "Does that make a difference?" Justice Anthony Kennedy asked. No, Wolf replied.
That leaves school administrators with the choice of embarrassing a child through a search or possibly having other children die while in their care, Justice David Souter said. "With those stakes in mind, why isn't that reasonable?" Souter said.
Wolf said school officials violated the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches. "There needs to be suspicion that the object is under the clothes," Wolf said.
A 1985 Supreme Court decision that dealt with searching a student's purse has found that school officials need only reasonable suspicions, not probable cause. But the court also warned against a search that is "excessively intrusive."
A schoolmate had accused Redding, then an eighth-grade student, of giving her pills.
Vice Principal Kerry Wilson took Redding to his office to search her backpack. When nothing was found, Redding was taken to a nurse's office where she says she was ordered to take off her shirt and pants. Redding said they then told her to move her bra to the side and to stretch her underwear waistband, exposing her breasts and pelvic area. No pills were found.
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