When should schools conduct strip searches?

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a middle school’s decision to strip search a 13-year-old girl because of suspicion she brought prescription strength ibuprofen to school violated the Constitution.

(Go here for the decision in Safford Unified School Dist. #1 v. Redding.)

The case attracted national attention and much debate. Some thought the search was too intrusive. Others said schools must have the freedom to do whatever is needed to keep the majority of students safe.

According to the suit, school officials searched the girl’s backpack and her outer garments. That part of the search was constitutional, the court majority wrote.

The search became illegal, they wrote, when school officials ordered the girl to strip to her bra and panties and made her pull them away from her body so they see if she had any drugs. No drugs were found.

Several national organizations have said the ruling didn’t provide clarity on when schools can use strip searches.

The justices wrote school officials must balance the danger of the drug in question with whether there is good reason to think the contraband is hidden in a place making a strip search necessary.

Some school districts, including New York City, have banned strip searches outright. Should other systems do the same?

What standards do you think school districts should follow when deciding whether to conduct a strip search?

56 comments Add your comment

Steph

June 26th, 2009
9:31 am

I don’t think that schools should ever do a strip search. If students are suspected of having something, then the school resource officer or local authorities should be called in.

zoe

June 26th, 2009
9:39 am

How about never. That is a job for trained police officers.

Lee

June 26th, 2009
10:08 am

Let’s see, how about NEVER.

I agree with the above posts, if school officials have PROBABLE CAUSE to suspect a student has ILLEGAL drugs or WEAPONS, then law enforcement should be called in and let them handle it.

This case involved prescription stength IBUPROFEN, which is usually 800mg and the equivalent of four Advils.

What this case is really about is COMMON SENSE, or the lack thereof exhibited by our schools…

catlady

June 26th, 2009
10:12 am

Never. Ever. Call the cops.

Stephanie

June 26th, 2009
10:25 am

Maybe this was reported earlier. In case not, were her parents ever contacted? If someone suspected my daughter of hiding drugs to the point of looking in her panties, I’d have someone’s balls.

Reality2

June 26th, 2009
10:45 am

NEVER, NEVER, NEVER!

If they think a student is engaged in an illegal activity, call the cops. If they don’t have the gut to call the cops, then they better live with it.

Tony

June 26th, 2009
10:58 am

School administrators should not conduct strip searches except in the most extreme circumstances. If illegal drugs or weapons are suspected, call the police. Principals have more latitude in conducting searches than police do. School officials are required to meet the “reasonable suspicion” standard. Police have to meet “probable cause”. This difference is important for us to be able to preserve the safety within our schools.

The dilemma for school officials is that the safety and welfare of all students is important. Passing prescription medications at school is increasingly common. The kids get the med from home, bring the pills to school, and sell them or give them away. BTW, unauthorized prescription meds are illegal, too. Parents need to be aware of how easy it is for their own children to grab a couple of pills from the medicine cabinet and take them to school. I believe last year in Georgia a student died or was hospitalized due to a reaction to meds given to him that were brought from home.

This case is, fortunately, isolated. Unfortunately, the notoriety generated by such a case makes it easy to blame all schools. In this case, the students who were trading prescription pills at school broke the law. The meds could have brought harm to someone very easily. The students should have been dealt with. Parents should have been called to come to the school – immediately!

What is really sad is that our permissive social values have led to things like this happening. Parents and lawyers have been very successful in diverting attention away from the behavior of the students and pointing fingers at the school. We are blamed for “going to far”, “not going far enough”, and everything in between. All the while, students’ behaviors deteriorate because they know they can push the limits and get away with it.

cricket

June 26th, 2009
10:59 am

There MUST be more to this story than concealed Advil! There is no debate about schools doing strip searches. Don’t! It is the job of the police. Of course, the authorities probably wouldn’t see fit to investigate a case of possession of Ibuprophen. Maybe the school shouldn’t have seen fit to do it either. As a public school teacher, I have way to many things to get done to have any time left over to look for something like this to worry about.

Classroom Teacher

June 26th, 2009
11:01 am

NEVER! Only a fool would strip search a child in school. WTF was this administrator thinking? This is just one more strike that enables people to hold public education in contempt.

Seen it all

June 26th, 2009
11:16 am

Our Brave New Schools. Another reason I have developed the opinion I have regarding public education.

Instead of administrators going on an ego trip and acting like tyrants, they should focus on improving the schools through strong solid instruction and creating a safe learning environment. As many people before me have said, discipline needs to be improved in schools. You don’t improve discipline, order, and respect for all by focusing on dress codes and strip searching teens in a search for aspirin. Oh, and somebody please don’t rebut that “well, Ibuprofen is four times stronger than Advil.” It’s still aspirin. When we start talking about CRACK COCAINE and MARIJUANA, then you can talk to me about doing the prison strip search on middle schoolers.

I see more teachers and administrators getting into a tizzy over how low the waist is of a student’s pants or how high the leg of student’s shorts end above her knee than what’s going on in with this student in the classroom. I don’t see principals and APs yelling “drop ‘em and spread ‘em” when students are out of control, disrespectful, and disruptive. However when they (the administrators) don’t get their way through intimidation and threats, just like in this Safford case, they go berserk.

I guess it just shows that no matter where you go in our country, all the schools are the same. All the school administrators are the same. Same mentality, just like the teachers. I guess underneath the smiling, duplicitious exterior lies a jack booted thug just waiting to get out. Or as my African American friends like to say, an overseer.

Today’s poll: Which term best describes most school principals?
a) Nitwitted bureaucrat
b) Plantation master/mistress
c) Nazi thug
d) Genius

Seen it all

June 26th, 2009
11:38 am

Oh BTW, this is not the first time this has happened. It has happened countless times in our country in the past. I remember a case in Clayton County where a school resource officer strip searched some FIFTH GRADERS over some “missing” money. It happened in 1996 at West Clayton Elementary School in Riverdale, GA. Apparently $26 in field trip money came up missing and 11 fifth grade students were strip searched for the money.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals later said that the search UNCONSTITUTIONAL.
http://articles.latimes.com/2001/aug/17/news/mn-35159
Of interesting note, this case was even mentioned in a law school brief regarding strip searches. (http://www.aele.org/law/Digests/civil202.html)

Moral of the story: Don’t frisk ‘em and tell ‘em to “drop ‘em and spread ‘em”, even if you are a cop. The cop that did that to those fifth grade boys is now working security at a “Pac and Sac” in Detroit. The teacher that did that to those fifth graders is a cashier in the same store.

Classroom Teacher

June 26th, 2009
11:56 am

Tony

Good points but was it too hard a decision to make to just call the girl’s parents instead of forcing her to strip?

Tony

June 26th, 2009
12:05 pm

Classroom Teacher – I strongly advocate calling the parents!

Lee

June 26th, 2009
12:07 pm

“Principals have more latitude in conducting searches than police do. School officials are required to meet the “reasonable suspicion” standard.”

And what gives you that latitude Tony, because it is written in your school handbook or is it a law? Don’t confuse the ability to search a school locker with the right to search a student.

Veteran teacher

June 26th, 2009
4:58 pm

Lee, Tony is quoting curent case law, which you can look up easily on the internet. Why don’t you look such things up rather than assume everyone else is wrong? All information about basic school law is readily available with a quick internet search. The basic baody of school law was developed beginning in the 1960’s, when the mentality of sue about everything began. What Tony was quoting about a school official needed reasonable case and a law officer needing probable cause was a major US Supreme Court ruling. The Court has re-affirmed the original decision many times.

DB

June 26th, 2009
6:13 pm

Schools officials are not trained to do strip searches. Call the police if you suspect drugs, and let them deal with it.

My child has graduated, but her private school has included a contract for next year that basically requires a student to submit to a drug screening on demand. Sheesh.

Tony

June 26th, 2009
9:33 pm

Lee – It is law and I’m not confused.

Lee

June 26th, 2009
11:28 pm

Veteran, the major case law you cite was with regards to seaching a student’s purse. I’m having difficulty finding case law that allows a school official to strip search a student – which is what this blog is about.

ScienceTeacher671

June 27th, 2009
12:25 am

Lee, have you seen a teacher or administrator state on here that they are in favor of schools conducting strip searches? So far, everyone I’ve seen thinks it’s a stupid idea – as do I.

Dr. Craig Spinks /Evans

June 27th, 2009
1:50 am

Catlady’s 10:12 AM post is right on the mark- no, not “mark” or “Mark,” let’s use the word “money,” a much more appropriate word for use in a public education-related matter.

Lee

June 27th, 2009
10:21 am

ScienceTeacher, re “Lee, have you seen a teacher or administrator state on here that they are in favor of schools conducting strip searches?”

May I direct your attention to Tony’s post, in which he said: “School administrators should not conduct strip searches except in the most extreme circumstances.”

I, along with most of the other posters, have stated that there are ZERO circumstances which would give rise to a school official to strip search a student.

Dave The Wave

June 27th, 2009
12:29 pm

I believe strongly that mandatory strip searches, body cavity searches, and daily drug screening should be a part of every child’s school experience starting in preschool. Students that misbehave or break the rules should be arrested and put in solitary confinement immediately. Corporal punishment including whipping, tasering, waterboarding, and the removal of a hand, leg or eye for any infraction will cure all student disobedience or inability to score well on standardized tests. Our schools should be managed like the prisons that they are and all students should be treated like the criminals that they will become. Humiliation, degradation, physical abuse, emotional abuse, and psychological abuse are the keys to raising children so that they become gifted adults.

John

June 27th, 2009
12:38 pm

The girl should have refused to cooperate with the search and then the school could forcibly rip her clothes off her kicking and screaming body and incur the resulting lawsuit for those actions. The Nazi thugs should have been held personally liable. Parents should teach their kids their rights for these instances and then stand behind the kids with a good attorney.

fiss

June 27th, 2009
12:56 pm

Call the kids mom and police right a way and let the parent do the strip search.

GTSteve

June 27th, 2009
12:58 pm

Uh Dave…..what?

Troll Alert!

June 27th, 2009
2:21 pm

Dave the Wave

TW

June 27th, 2009
2:47 pm

That this is even up for debate shows how badly community has failed school…and government has failed community.

Want good schools? Ante up, free-loaders :)

Steve

June 27th, 2009
4:16 pm

There are some real dolts that post comments. Jump to comclusions and make statements based on perception. One town I lived in (Hahira) when the police chief was called by the principal his comments were to deal with their own problems. Maybe the parents were called and like so many typical parents – were basically useless. No. Make unwarranted conjectures like this is why I hate piblic education. Where do you work you idiot? I am sure your occupation is lilly white isn’t it. Do not blame everyione for the actions of a few. I agree with TW. These comments make sense. If you want something then be prepared to cough it up or you do not have any grounds to complain. The basis for this post also shows why ZERO TOLERANCE is stupid but was demanded by the public. It is not an option. If a teacher gave my child any medicine I would be very upset since that is a medical professional’s job. So, are you for having a school nurse in every school? The law does not make a distinction between Advil or cocaine – both are drugs under zero tolerance. Don’t like it then get involved and get rules changed.

Reality

June 27th, 2009
6:33 pm

The insanity of it all….. Society/parents fully expect for schools to be safe, to keep the children safe, etc. Schools are charged with ensuring that each and every kid is in an evironment that is physically safe and also NEVER exposes them to ANYTHING that is unapproved by each parent.

Imagine that charge?!?!?!

Schools must be safe but cannot search a student. Schools employees cannot say certain things, but kids can say anything (and usually without repercussions).

Does this mean that kids will now successfully bring knives, guns, drugs, etc. to school as long as they quickly put them in their underwear? And then, if/when a student is hurt…. of course it will be the schools fault, right?

How totally insane are we to expect these things from our schools?

And, the funny/sad thing is that there are SO many parents that don’t give a rat’s @$$ about their own kids. They allow their kids to surf the net and look at porn unsupervised. They allow their kids to spend the night at so-and-so’s house when really the kids are out “partying”.

All of these problems start at the HOME and not at school. The school just is forced to deal with all of the resulting CRAP that comes from the HOME. I say – let the schools do what they must whenever the CRAP comes into the school building!

Steve...Reality

June 27th, 2009
8:57 pm

Yall step away from the computer for a while…please!

Steve

June 28th, 2009
9:17 am

Why? Too stupid to recognize that the general public pushes for laws and then can’t fgure out that they were ignorant in the first place? If the law says zero tolerance for drugs or weapons it is not an option. Have you read the laws from different states? Probably not. Just another ignorant that thinks they have all the answers – IDIOT.

Whatever

June 28th, 2009
11:40 am

Aww naww. Another internet tough guy!

Where is the AJC?

June 28th, 2009
12:54 pm

Does the term investigative reporting mean anything to the education reporters at the AJC? You’ve run several stories on the two administrators who violated the law in DeKalb. Yet when you are presented evidence that this isn’t an isolated incident, and the fact that it isn’t an isolated incident is covered up at the highest levels, where is the AJC?

You have credible allegations that another DeKalb County administrator, state senator Ronald Ramsey, illegally shut down a teacher’s grievance hearing, when that teacher was about to testify about yet another cheating scandal in DeKalb County.

Is the AJC, while claiming to be a watchdog, really afraid of a story that might show how cheating is tolerated at the highest levels in DeKalb? Rather that pretend you are making waves with the non story of Lewis asking his staff to fall in line like sycophants and support two cheating administrators, why not do a real story on Ronald Ramsey and the Office of Internal Resolution, and find out if there is a concerted effort to cover up cheating at the highest levels.

Don’t the readers deserve to know whether or not these allegations have substance, since you already have one major story on cheating in DeKalb? Maybe this is another reason that readers feel the AJC is not responsive to them, and are choosing to spend their dollars elsewhere.

Steve

June 28th, 2009
1:30 pm

Another internet stupee. Yall is really spelled y’all but then your attempt to pull an Iranian censorship failed and you now resort to changing your name. Good job DA (dumb @#$)

ScienceTeacher671

June 28th, 2009
5:19 pm

Lee, I won’t speak for Tony, but it doesn’t seem to me that saying one might need to do something “in the most extreme circumstances” means that one is in favor of doing it.

Cere

June 28th, 2009
5:52 pm

The fact that you are even posing the question, “When should schools conduct strip searches?” is terribly frightening to me. I’m afraid that we as a country – especially within our public school systems – have lost our way and forget that our country stands for individual rights and freedom first and foremost. (Again, another bit of evidence that our school systems are not doing their jobs and teaching our children the American value system – what we stand for and fight for.) I recently watched the entire John Adams series — I wish it was recommended viewing for all of our students – and especially for our administrators who seem to forget what we stand for as Americans. This is not a communist nation – We do not strip search ANYONE – especially based on one persons accusations, in an effort to uncover anything – much less children — much less ibuprofen. What were these administrators thinking?!!! Thank goodness (most) of the Supreme Court upheld this young lady’s rights.

Harrowing!

Lee

June 28th, 2009
10:27 pm

ScienceTeacher, I really wish a school official could tell me what would constitute an “extreme circumstance” that would justify subjecting 13 year old girl to a strip search. Because for the life of me, I can’t think of a single one.

You know, maybe our public school officials should be more intent on teaching the Constitution instead of violating it.

ScienceTeacher671

June 29th, 2009
12:28 am

Lee, what if it was a 20 year old boy and you were pretty sure he had a weapon? Would that be extreme enough?

I’m not sure what “extreme circumstance” Tony had in mind. Personally, I don’t even search purses, but I do know that students bring all sorts of things to school, including sometimes guns.

Classroom Teacher

June 29th, 2009
8:44 am

And what if the 20 year old “boy” said hell no you ain’t searching me? Do you get physical with him? Call the cops, is that so hard? No wonder a lot of parents look at schools with disdain.

Classroom Teacher

June 29th, 2009
8:47 am

One more thing ScienceTeacher671 do you really think that if a student brings a weapon to school they are going to let you search him or her?

Happy

June 29th, 2009
8:55 am

If Michael Jackson hadnt died Im sure he would volunteer his services to strip search ALL little boys.

ScienceTeacher671

June 29th, 2009
11:56 am

Classroom Teacher, Lee, anyone else…I’ve already said I don’t even search purses, much less the bodies of students, and yes, I would call an administrator, parent, or the police if I thought someone needed to be searched.

That said, the discussion centered on Tony’s statement that students should not be searched “except in the most extreme circumstances”…by definition, “the most extreme circumstances” should be extremely rare, and probably would be highly unusual.

I would suggest that foreclosing all options is probably just as stupid as some of the “zero tolerance” policies we see now.

GA Education

June 29th, 2009
12:51 pm

One word…NEVER!!!

GA Education

June 29th, 2009
12:53 pm

Happy, are you a student? GET A LIFE and learn not to be so asinine. Geez

Classroom Teacher

June 29th, 2009
1:53 pm

ScienceTeacher671

You said “That said, the discussion centered on Tony’s statement that students should not be searched “except in the most extreme circumstances”…by definition, “the most extreme circumstances” should be extremely rare, and probably would be highly unusual.” and then you followed that up with “I would suggest that foreclosing all options is probably just as stupid as some of the “zero tolerance” policies we see now.”

You see the slight contradiction? Strip searching a student should NEVER be an option.

cricket

June 29th, 2009
4:47 pm

For those who believe the police should be called, think about it. It is not a crime to have ibuprofen. It is not a controlled substance even in prescription strength. The police or other law enforcement officers don’t deal with such things. You would just have to have a parent come to the school and straighten kid out.

Thank you cricket!

June 29th, 2009
6:42 pm

For explaining the obvious. I don’t know why these incompetent teachers can’t understand that.

echo

June 29th, 2009
9:00 pm

If it is a prescribed medication and it is in the hands of someone that medication is not prescribed for it IS a problem. And yes, the police DO deal with this, far to frequently! Some of you also need to read the school handbooks & county policies regarding medications.

It is very rare for any parent “to come to the school and straighten the kid out”…most of the time the parent is part of the problem and will do everything possible to make sure their kid doesn’t get into “trouble”. Some of those posting here seem to be missing the real obvious problem, kids with drugs are all over the schools.

Lee

June 29th, 2009
9:55 pm

Sorry ScienceTeacher, your 20 year old “boy” with a weapon still doesn’t qualify. First of all, a 20 year old is an ADULT. Secondly, weapons on school grounds are CRIMINAL offenses and are best left to law enforcement personnel to handle. BTW, so is the distribution of illegal narcotics, possession of explosive devices, and any number of extreme circumstances that you can cite.

I asked a simple question, “Give an example of an extreme circumstance in which a 13 year old girl should be subjected to a strip search.”

I’m still waiting on that one…

The case law which Tony and ScienceTeacher cited as the basis for “reasonable suspicion” for student searches was regarding a search of a POCKETBOOK. The underlying argument is that the school is acting in loco parentis. Since the majority of opinions on this blog appear to be against strip searches, then why do the schools feel they have a right to go against the overwhelming wishes of the parents in this matter?

Which in turn brings up an interesting twist, in loco parentis is an action taken on behalf of a parent of a minor child. When a child reaches the age of majority (18), they become an ADULT and therefore responsible for their own actions. It would be interesting to see how the Supreme Court would rule in the case of a school searching an adult (over 18) student.

My guess, being lawyers, they would twist the ruling around in such a convoluted manner that no one would have the slightest clue what the hell they were talking about.

ScienceTeacher671

June 30th, 2009
8:59 am

Lee, your original question was in regards to “a student”; you later revised it to make the generic student a 13 year old girl student.

I pointed out that the posters on the board, including teachers, were opposed to strip searches of students.

If you’d like to twist that around to opine that parents are against strip searches but teachers are for them, I suppose that’s your option.