Student Strip-Search Case Moves to Supreme Court

The case could influence how schools treat students suspected of carrying harmful substances.

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The case of a 13-year-old girl who was stripped-searched at school because of suspicion that she was carrying and distributing prescription-strength ibuprofen heads to the U.S. Supreme Court next week. At issue is whether the school-ordered strip-search violated the girl's Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. Whatever the outcome, it is likely to influence how schools nationwide carry out student searches.

Lawyers for the Safford Unified School District in southeastern Arizona hope to persuade the nine justices to overturn a lower court's ruling that found the search violated the girl's privacy rights. Tuesday, they will argue that the search was justified and that, if the lower court's decision stands, it would "cause school officials to hesitate or do nothing at all, even when they in good faith believe that students are at risk."

School groups are split on the case. The National School Boards Association and the American Association of School Administrators have filed a friend-of-the court brief that argues that the lower court's decision would "seriously undermine school districts' efforts to address student drug abuse in an effective manner." Taking the opposite stand, the National Education Association, the largest teachers' union, and the National Association of School Psychologists say school officials went too far and acted unlawfully.

On Oct. 8, 2003, an assistant principal at Safford Middle School pulled eighth-grader Savana Redding out of math class on suspicion that she had given another student ibuprofen tablets, a violation of the school's drug policy. In private, two female school employees, acting on the assistant principal's instructions, asked the girl to strip down to her undergarments and then to pull open her bra and panties so they could thoroughly inspect her. They found no pills. The girl's mother later filed suit against the district and the assistant principal.

We'll bring you the outcome. In the meantime, tell us where you stand. Should schools be able to conduct strip-searches of students who are suspected of carrying harmful substances or other "dangerous" contraband? How much consideration should be given to students' privacy rights?

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