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.