The strip-search case was brought by the mother of Savana Redding, who in 2003 was an eighth-grade student at a public middle school in Safford, Ariz. Another student, found with ibuprofen pills in violation of a strict school policy, said Savana had given them to her.
School officials searched Savana’s belongings, made her strip to her bra and underwear, and ordered her, in the words of an appeals court, “to pull her bra out to the side and shake it” and “pull out her underwear at the crotch and shake it.” No pills were found. The pills that prompted the search had the potency of two over-the-counter Advil capsules.
A trial judge dismissed the parent’s case against the school officials, ruling that they were immune from suit. After a divided panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed that decision, the full appeals court agreed to a rehearing. By 6 to 5, a larger panel of the court reversed the decision, saying the suit could go forward against the assistant principal who had ordered the search.
“It does not require a constitutional scholar to conclude that a nude search of a 13-year-old child is an invasion of constitutional rights of some magnitude,” Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw wrote for the majority, quoting a decision in another case. “More than that: it is a violation of any known principle of human dignity.”
Judge Michael Daly Hawkins, dissenting, said the case was in some ways “a close call,” given the “humiliation and degradation” Savana had endured. But, Judge Hawkins concluded, “I do not think it was unreasonable for school officials, acting in good faith, to conduct the search in an effort to obviate a potential threat to the health and safety of their students.”
While James and the Supreme Court are focusing on worthwhile Constitutional issues, this seems to me to be missing the point, and akin to trying to cure heart disease by making better defibrillators. We need to look at what got us to this point that school officials would even CONSIDER performing a strip search for over the counter medication. This is a manifestation of decades of drug war mania and the ensuing zero tolerance idiocy.
This sort of thing should never have risen to the point that it is a constitutional issue, as this is an issue of common sense. It makes no sense to strip search kids for a pill they can buy at any store without any questions asked, yet this sort of nonsense happens every single day (albeit perhaps not to this degree). This is the school equivalent of the TSA pouring out breast milk because they are worried about lactating mothers blowing up planes. It is insanity, and zero tolerance is shorthand for zero thinking.
That seems to me to be the bigger issue.