BY World's Editorial Writers
Monday, June 29, 2009
6/29/09 at 4:23 AM
The Supreme Court, in its 8-1 decision in favor of students' rights, is correct that school officials' strip-search of 13-year-old Arizona honor student Savana Redding violated her constitutional rights. The girl claimed the search was the "most humiliating" event of her life.
Writing for the majority, the level-headed Justice David H. Souter, who soon will retire from the bench, said a search of the girl's backpack and outer garments did not offend the Fourth Amendment's ban on unreasonable searches. But the pills in question, each no stronger than two Advils, he said, did not justify an "embarrassing, frightening and humiliating search."
It's nice to see common sense balanced with the law. Strip searching a middle schooler in search of prescription ibuprofen clearly crossed a line. This decision sends an important message to schools about the need to respect their students' privacy when they conduct investigations.
The basis for the strip search of Redding — in which school officials came up empty-handed — was tenuous at best, apparently based on a tip from a fellow middle-schooler.
Redding's mother sued, claiming that the search violated her daughter's Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches. In schools, that protection is reduced, but officials still must show that a search was not overly intrusive.
The opinion exempted the assistant principal who ordered the search from liability but the school district in Safford, Ariz., might still be held accountable for Redding's humiliation.
The bottom line here is that school districts should take heed that strip searches of students should only be used in the most extreme circumstances and only when officials believe other students' safety is jeopardized.