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Rummaging Through Underage Girls’ Panties

Apparently, the Supreme Court is leaning towards letting school administrators do just that. The case in question is a about a girl who was strip searched by school officials when she was 13 years old in eighth grade. The school officials were acting on a tip from another girl who had been caught with prescription strength ibuprofen. The girl was asked to strip to her bra and panties then pull aside her panties and shake her bra in an attempt to find the pills, and of course no pills were found.

“What this school official did,” Mr. Wolf said, referring to the male assistant principal who ordered the search, “was act on nothing more than a hunch — if that — that Savana was currently concealing ibuprofen pills underneath her underpants for others’ oral consumption.”

“I mean, there’s a certain ick factor to this,” Mr. Wolf said.

The school districts attorney argued that such searches should be allowed for even the most benign over the counter drugs. Justice Souter had a flash of sanity, only a flash though, and noted that a student having an aspirin is unlikely to pose a major health threat.

“At some point it gets silly,” Justice David H. Souter said. “Having an aspirin tablet does not present a health and safety risk.”

Justice Scalia…well lets see what he had to say,

Justice Antonin Scalia challenged him on the first point.

“You search in the student’s pack, you search the student’s outer garments, and you have a reasonable suspicion that the student has drugs,” he said. “Don’t you have, after conducting all these other searches, a reasonable suspicion that she has drugs in her underpants?”

“You’ve searched everywhere else,” Justice Scalia said. “By God, the drugs must be in her underpants.”

Yes, and after that, body cavity searches, right? I think most people would not find it unreasonable that if I found out my son underwent a body cavity search they wouldn’t have to worry about me suing the school official responsible. They’d have to worry about finding all the pieces of his body. And no, by God, the drugs must not be in her underpants, the other possible answer is that there are no drugs and that the snitch might have been settling a grudge.

Mr. Wolf, Ms. Redding’s lawyer, injected another new term into the court’s lexicon. He said a search may be appropriate if the school has evidence that a student makes a habit of “crotching” drugs.

Justice Souter may have summarized the mood of the court near the end of the argument in the case, Safford Unified School District v. Redding, No. 08-479. Several justices appeared troubled by the search, but also seemed loath to second-guess school officials confronted with a variety of dangerous substances.

“My thought process,” Justice Souter said, “is I would rather have the kid embarrassed by a strip search, if we can’t find anything short of that, than to have some other kids dead because the stuff is distributed at lunchtime and things go awry.”

As Radley Balko asks, can’t we at least have some empirical evidence that kids “crotch their drug stash” that has lead to the death of other students? Is actual evidence too much to ask for, even at the Supreme Court? The strip search was based on a snitch’s statements, something that should be taken with a shovel of salt. When you are down to the underwear and you haven’t found drugs on a student with no history of drug abuse, good grades, good attendance, and no other indicators of being a problem student maybe it is at that point that you should call the child’s parents and involve them.

Update: Missed this part,

Mr. Wright did draw the line at searches of students’ body cavities, but only on the practical ground that school officials are not trained to conduct such searches. Mr. Wright said there was no legal obstacle to such a search.

So if the Supreme Court does go along with the school, and officials do get proper training by enrolling your child in public school you are giving your consent for a school official to insert a gloved hand into your child’s anus. Very nice.

Photo by Flickr user drp, used under Creative Commons license.

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About Steve Verdon
Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and attended graduate school at The George Washington University, leaving school shortly before staring work on his dissertation when his first child was born. He works in the energy industry and prior to that worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Division of Price Index and Number Research.

Comments

  1. Michael says:

    Is it too much to ask to call a parent, and require the parent’s consent and presence during the search?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  2. Steve Verdon says:

    Michael,

    Yes. The bureaucrats know how to handle these things better than you ever will.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 4

  3. Michael says:

    They’d have to worry about finding all the pieces of his body.

    Irony dictates that you stuff them in his own body cavities.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  4. PD Shaw says:

    I disagree with the characterization that the Supreme Court is “leaning towards letting school administrators” rummage through underpants.

    I think a large part of the problem here is that the schools are subject to too much second-guessing from the courts. The result has been increasing rigidity in the policies, like zero tolerance.

    Why aren’t the parents and community involved in supervising the schools? Why is the Supreme Court the last bastion of defense against cavity searches of kindergartners?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  5. Rick Almeida says:

    “Don’t you have, after conducting all these other searches, a reasonable suspicion that she has drugs in her underpants?”

    “You’ve searched everywhere else,” Justice Scalia said. “By God, the drugs must be in her underpants.”

    Perhaps this is a difference between a lawyer and a quantitative researcher, but I would think that, as hiding place after hiding place is eliminated, the “reasonableness” of each subsequent search is lessened.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  6. PD Shaw says:

    michael, under the doctrine of in loco parentis, the school is the parents.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  7. Maybe they should just waterboard they kids until the admit where they hid the drugs.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  8. Michael says:

    michael, under the doctrine of in loco parentis, the school is the parents.

    Hmm, and interesting angle. Would the courts be okay with a 13 year old girl’s father subjecting her to strip searches? How about cavity searches, if he was medically trained?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  9. Patrick says:

    First off, you are definitely gonna get some new referrals from Google search with that title.

    Secondly, what is so threatening about ibuprofen?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  10. Michael says:

    Maybe they should just waterboard they kids until the admit where they hid the drugs.

    And remember, the fact that they haven’t given up the drugs after the 182nd time only means that you haven’t broken them yet. Maybe the next time will yield the truth.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  11. Michael says:

    There’s a certain kind of, I dunno, dissonance in the fact that it may soon be legal for an adult to strip a 13 year old girl down to her underwear and watch her shake around, but illegal for that same girl to take her own picture doing the same thing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  12. FranklinTest says:

    I think a large part of the problem here is that the schools are subject to too much second-guessing from the courts. The result has been increasing rigidity in the policies, like zero tolerance.

    While zero tolerance policies are in general stupid, I’m curious where you get the notion that court second-guessing is the cause of those policies. My opinion is that the primary motivation is fear of lawsuits from negligence.

    If courts can’t second-guess something like strip searches, why even have courts at all?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  13. Steve Verdon says:

    Maybe they should just waterboard they kids until the admit where they hid the drugs.

    Bernard…you win the thread. Well done.

    And remember, the fact that they haven’t given up the drugs after the 182nd time only means that you haven’t broken them yet. Maybe the next time will yield the truth.

    10.0 on the use of ScaliaLogic. Also well done.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  14. Michael says:

    10.0 on the use of ScaliaLogic. Also well done.

    Sadly, I can’t say it’s just Scalia’s logic. Somebody obviously decided that KSM would give up useful information on the 183 time on the board that he hadn’t given up during the previous 182 attempts.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  15. Steve Verdon says:

    Sadly, I can’t say it’s just Scalia’s logic. Somebody obviously decided that KSM would give up useful information on the 183 time on the board that he hadn’t given up during the previous 182 attempts.

    I know, but Scalia is more well known that the person who made that decision (at least for now) and Scalia’s influence is likely further reaching. But you are correct, it is the same logic and it is rather twisted as Benard pointed out.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  16. Boyd says:

    If the drugs in the student’s possession are illegal, why are school personnel conducting the search to begin with? As the father of five, two of whom are still in public schools, I’m perfectly happy with law enforcement getting involved at that point.

    If the drugs aren’t illegal, why are school personnel conducting a search to begin with? Going to such extremes for OTC substances isn’t warranted.

    So yeah, school folks, keep your grubby hands out of all of my kids stuff. Either involve me if it’s minor, or the cops if it’s major. You’re not in that business.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  17. JKB says:

    Bear with me now, I have this crazy idea. If the school has reasonable suspicion that the child has hidden drugs on their person but have been unable to find them by searching their outer garment, they could call this group established by the local government to investigate, determine whether a further search is called for and if so carry out the search. We could call this group, the police.

    Of course, such a practice would interfere with the school officials’ internet porn fantasies of having coercive authority over school girls.

    Who is approved to conduct these searches? You are not allowed to ask if the same-sex teacher or administrator is homosexual so how do you determine which school official can conduct the search without it being sexually charged to the searcher?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  18. PD Shaw says:

    JKB: No crime has been committed, so the police wouldn’t come. Violations of school policies are not crimes.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  19. Michael says:

    If the school has reasonable suspicion that the child has hidden drugs on their person but have been unable to find them by searching their outer garment, they could call this group established by the local government to investigate, determine whether a further search is called for and if so carry out the search. We could call this group, the police.

    The police can’t do much, the student was never accused of breaking the law, only of breaking school rules.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  20. Moonage says:

    JKB: No crime has been committed, so the police wouldn’t come. Violations of school policies are not crimes.

    Suspicion of a crime allows a person to detain someone until the police can determine if there was a crime committed or not. Quite frankly, it doesn’t make me feel any better having a school strip search my kid or the police. In either situation, I expect to be there during the investigation whether the school is the de facto parent or not. If I abdicate that right, then the school can do whatever they see fit. Given the nature of some kids, and a lot of parents, I’m sure some parents would be more than happy for the school to handle it for them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  21. Michael says:

    Suspicion of a crime allows a person to detain someone until the police can determine if there was a crime committed or not.

    The student wasn’t even suspected of having committed a crime. She was only suspected of breaking school rules.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  22. FranklinTest says:

    Fine, then let’s take another example of something that’s clearly against school rules but also clearly not a crime. Let’s say she was suspected of taking a cheat sheet into a test. Are school administrators allowed to finger her anus to find this cheat sheet, or not?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  23. PD Shaw says:

    Here is my hypothetical: All of the same facts with one crucial difference: the school is not a public school, it’s a private school.

    Result: No lawsuit; there are no Fourth Amendment protections against non-governmental officials. Somehow these things can work themselves out without courts.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  24. And here I was thinking that titling a post “Carrie Prejean bikini pics” was the nadir of shameless Google-keyword exploitation. I tip my hat to you, Dr. Joyner. No wonder you’r making $75,000 a year!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  25. Michael says:

    And here I was thinking that titling a post “Carrie Prejean bikini pics” was the nadir of shameless Google-keyword exploitation. I tip my hat to you, Dr. Joyner. No wonder you’r making $75,000 a year!

    Maybe you would like to propose beating him with a baseball bat?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  26. Steve Verdon says:

    Okay enough of the google comments. Try googling this site please. It wont bring up much.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  27. JKB says:

    Okay so no crime but really does the violation of a school rule justify abusing a child? Tell me that a 13 yr old girl being forced to display her body with no way to challenge it at a place she is required to be by law isn’t abuse. These school officials are abuser even if their abuse was unintentional. There appears to be no consideration of the impact of the search on the child’s emotional and mental health. What happened was some petty officials with power abused this girl for challenging their authority. She was in the same position as an innocent person who is illegally searched, since they have no contraband, they have no recourse under the 4th amendment as there would be no prosecution.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  28. just me says:

    While zero tolerance policies are in general stupid, I’m curious where you get the notion that court second-guessing is the cause of those policies. My opinion is that the primary motivation is fear of lawsuits from negligence.

    I agree with this. I think, at least when it comes to things like ibuprofen or other OTC medications in possession of students it is more the fear that a child will have a reaction and sue the district than a fear that the student has a drug.

    I am also not overly bothered, if there is reasonable suspicion having school officials search a backpack or have a student empty their pockets, but I think anything beyond that should involve a parent being present and if the concern is for an OTC med, you give up the search after the backpack and emptied pockets turn up nothing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  29. lunacy says:

    I don’t know because I wasn’t there and haven’t read the transcript, but is it possible that this is sarcasm?

    ““You’ve searched everywhere else,” Justice Scalia said. “By God, the drugs must be in her underpants.””

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  30. An Interested Party says:

    Who is approved to conduct these searches? You are not allowed to ask if the same-sex teacher or administrator is homosexual so how do you determine which school official can conduct the search without it being sexually charged to the searcher?

    Are you implying that homosexuals are automatically attracted to same-sex minors?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  31. lunacy says:

    I think the point being made here–

    “Are you implying that homosexuals are automatically attracted to same-sex minors?”

    –is that asking same gendered school personnel to conduct the search is no guarantee that there isn’t lascivious motivation or misconduct; not that any sexual preference increases that likelihood, only that it increases the possibility to 100% of the school personnel population.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  32. anjin-san says:

    “My thought process,” Justice Souter said, “is I would rather have the kid embarrassed by a strip search, if we can’t find anything short of that, than to have some other kids dead because the stuff is distributed at lunchtime and things go awry.

    Maybe we had best strip search every kid, every day. After all, its better than perhaps missing something that might lead to a tragedy.

    Hey, if we are going to move towards being a police state, why not start training people how to submit while they are still young and impressionable.? One of many things I find troubling about this is that the young lady in question did not resist the search with physical violence, which is sure as hell what i would have done if a school official had tried to get my pants off for any reason.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  33. Tlaloc says:

    “You search in the student’s pack, you search the student’s outer garments, and you have a reasonable suspicion that the student has drugs,” he said. “Don’t you have, after conducting all these other searches, a reasonable suspicion that she has drugs in her underpants?”

    “You’ve searched everywhere else,” Justice Scalia said. “By God, the drugs must be in her underpants.”

    What’s amazing is not that Scalia is routinely so thoroughly asinine, but that being such a douche bag he still managed to become a supreme court justice and is looked up to by no small number of people on the right.

    Antonin “By God, the drugs must be in her underpants” Scalia, ladies and gentelmen.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  34. just me says:

    Actually I am curious about whether Scalia’s comments were sarcasm as well. I have heard him speak-I wouldn’t be shocked to learn that it was sarcasm, and you can’t show tone of voice and body language in a transcript.

    I am also curious as to just how many school students have died or been seriously harmed by taking ibuprofen. I think one question that should be answered is level of risk, when determining if a search of underpants is acceptable.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  35. hcantrall says:

    For the first time ever, I agree with Angin. I would have never allowed that to happen to me, I would have demanded they call my parents. I’m reasonbly sure that my son would not submit to this either. It is scary to think that our children would not stand up for themselves when something as inappropriate as this situation occurs.

    I really hope Scalia was being sarcastic.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  36. hcantrall says:

    oops, Anjin..there should be an edit button here =)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  37. PD Shaw says:

    What’s truly amazing is that the people upset by the lower court’s opinion and the S. Ct. Justice’s comments want . . .

    Judges to issue warrants for this type of search.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  38. PD Shaw says:

    I notice California law currently provides:

    No school employee shall conduct a search that involves:
    (a) Conducting a body cavity search of a pupil manually or with an instrument.
    (b) Removing or arranging any or all of the clothing of a pupil to permit a visual inspection of the underclothing, breast, buttocks, or genitalia of the pupil.

    Is that so hard to write?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  39. Tlaloc says:

    What’s truly amazing is that the people upset by the lower court’s opinion and the S. Ct. Justice’s comments want . . .

    Judges to issue warrants for this type of search.

    Wouldn’t that be the right way to handle it? I mean if you really had solid probable cause then you have three choices:
    1) do nothing
    2) do something likely unlawful or at least icky
    3) follow the procedures

    If a judge signs off on the idea I ‘m a lot more comfortable with it… unless Scalia was the judge in question, I guess.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1