As Americans we have certain expectations to what our rights are, in fact we have a bill of rights to ensure the rights we deserve. In most cases we consider these rights undeniable but sometimes they are deniable when you are a student on campus. Sometimes the legal line is not quite clear on rights that are afforded to students; rather the moral line is clear or not. In day to day adult life we expect law enforcement and lawyers to enforce our rights properly but on school grounds staff members are expected to take the role of enforcer and judge.
The 4th Amendment protects Americans from unreasonable search and seizure, but students are not afforded the same right on most occasions. It has been established that searching backpacks and items of the like is permissible on school campus but Safford Unified School District #1 v. Redding delves into the more complicated area of body searches. At the age of 13 Savana Redding was called into the office of her school because she had been implicated in distribution of over the counter pain killers and prescription pain pills that were the strength of two Advil.
The assistant principal and secretary went through Savana’s book bag and pockets were searched. After no pills were found on Savana’s outer layer of clothing the assistant principal “then had [the secretary]take Savana to the school nurse’s office to search her clothes for pills. After [the secretary] and the nurse, had Savana remove her outer clothing, they told her to pull her bra out and shake it, and to pull out the elastic on her underpants, thus exposing her breasts and pelvic area to some degree.
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No pills were found. ” (Cornell University Law School, 2010) It is important to also point out that Savana’s parents were not notified until after the search and the assistant principal had not gotten details of when Savana had been distributing pill or where she kept these pills. Soon after Savana was pulled out of school and the legal proceedings began. It was decided by the Ninth Circuit Court that Savana had indeed had her 4th Amendment right had been violated.
The court found that the circumstances did not warrant such an invasive search “because the suspected facts pointing to Savana did not indicate that the drugs presented a danger to students or were concealed in her underwear, [the assistant principal] did not have sufficient suspicion to warrant extending the search to the point of making Savana pull out her underwear. [the secretary] and [the nurse] said that they did not see anything when Savana pulled out her underwear, but a strip search and its Fourth Amendment consequences are not defined by who was looking and how much was seen. ”. Cornell University Law School, 2010) Savana had a clean disciplinary record and the assistant principal had not even found out when the supposed pills were in Savana’s possession or how many were in her possession. The main problem with this search was that, while the measures may have been considered appropriate, there was no reasonable explanation for the extremes that the search went to because there was no proof a student would be hiding a non-dangerous contraband in her underwear. The 4th Amendment protects Americans from unreasonable search and seizure, but the school system only allows that protection sometimes.
Schools are allowed to search backpacks but not strip search students. Some things seem obvious to outside eyes, like the fact that you shouldn’t strip search 13 year old children, but when you are in charge of 100s of children sometimes certain things get distorted. The assistant principal in this case was trying to make an example of Savana by showing how strict the school was on their drug policy, but he went too far. Risking the emotional damage a child might face from something like a strip search is never worth proving a point.
Strip searching may be warranted in a situation like a student seeing another student carrying a weapon in their under garments, but in a situation where there is no real danger to other students it is extreme. As adults we expect all of our rights to be given to us but unfortunately adults don’t always feel the need to extend those rights to children. The judgment in this case could not have been fairer. Hopefully right infringements like this won’t happen to others thanks to Savana stepping forward.
Cornell University Law School. (2010). Legal Information Institute. Retrieved from http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/08-479.ZS.html
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