Court rules school officials acted properly in strip search
By Diane Saunders, Staff Writer
Published on Wednesday, September 26, 2007 5:19 PM MST
Safford Middle School officials did not violate the civil rights of a 13-year-old Safford girl when they forced her to disrobe and expose her breasts and pubic area four years ago while looking for a drug, according to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling.
The justices voted 2-1 in favor of the Safford School District on Sept. 21. The decision upheld a federal district court’s summary judgement that Safford Middle School Vice Principal Kerry Wilson, school nurse Peggy Schwallier and administrative assistant Helen Romero did not violate the girl’s Fourth Amendment rights on Oct. 8, 2003, when they subjected her to a strip search in an effort to find Ibuprofen, an anti-inflammatory drug sold over the counter and in prescription strengths.
The Safford School District has since (in 2005) adopted a policy that states, “Disrobing of a student is overly instrusive for purposes of most student searches and is improper without express concurrence from school district counsel.”
The girl’s mother filed a federal law suit against the district and Middle School officials because they forced her daughter to strip down to her underwear then move her bra and panties in such a way that her breasts and pubic area were exposed. The mother also asserts that she was not notified of the impending search.
In the opinion written by Judge Richard Clifton, “Based on the information available to them, defendants (Safford School District, Wilson, Schwallier and Romero) had ‘reasonable grounds’ for suspecting that the search of (the girl’s) person would turn up evidence that (the girl) had violated or was violating either the law or the rules of the school.”
Clifton wrote that Wilson and the others had reasonable grounds for believing the girl had Ibuprofen based on conversations with two other students.
The other students said the girl possessed Ibuprofen and had distributed the drug to others, according to the court report.
Judge Richard R. Clifton, however, disagreed with Thomas and Judge Michael Daly Hawkins, and wrote the dissenting opinion.
“I disagree, however, with the assertion that the search of (the girl’s) person was reasonable in scope,” Clifton wrote. “It was unreasonable to force (the girl), a 13-year-old girl, to expose her breasts and public area to schools officials.”
Safford School District Superintendent Mark Tregaskes said school officials do not see the Appellate Court’s ruling as giving them the OK to strip search students when possession of over-the-counter drugs are suspected.
“That’s never been the case either before or after this decision,” Tregaskes said, adding that the term can be misleading.
He also said parents are usually notified, depending on the circumstances.
A school district policy, adopted in 2005, states, “School officials have the right to search and seize property, including school property temporarily assigned to students, when there is reason to believe that some material or matter detrimental to health, safety and welfare of the student(s) exists. Disrobing of a student is overly instrusive for purposes of most student searches and is improper without express concurrence from school district counsel.”
School district policies also state that students cannot possess or take over-the-counter drugs without the written consent of their parents. Over-the-counter drugs must be brought to the school in its original container and be administered by a school official, the policy states.
Under certain circumstances, however, students may administer medications to themselves if they provide written permission from their parents.
Student Strip Search Heads To High Court
Justices To Hear Case Of 13-Year-Old Ariz. Girl Who Underwent Invasive Search For Ibuprofen Pills
Thirteen-year-old Savana Redding, an eighth-grade honor student in Safford, Ariz., was strip-searched when a classmate who was found carrying ibuprofen pills tried to blame Savana as the source. (CBS)
13-Year-Old Strip Searched
The NCLU is suing a school for strip searching a 13-year-old girl. The Supreme Court will hear the case and their decision will set national precedent. Hattie Kauffman reports.
Stripping Students’ Rights?
McDonald’s Strip Search Victim Gets $6.1M
(CBS) The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear the case of a young Arizona honor student who was strip-searched in the eighth grade by school officials looking for ibuprofen pills.
Savana Redding and her mother have been fighting the Safford Unified School District in Safford, Ariz., since 2003.
That’s when Savana – then a 13-year-old honor student – was called to the principal’s office.
“Once they got me into my underwear I thought they would let me put my clothes back on,” she told CBS News correspondent Hattie Kauffman. “But then they told me to pull out my bra and shake it, and my underwear as well.”
When another student was found with ibuprofen pills, she blamed Savana. After a search of her backpack came up empty, the school nurse and a female secretary performed a strip search.
Kauffman asked Redding what she was thinking after the procedure.
“You know, I couldn’t think about going back to school,” she said. “I didn’t want to see those people ever again.”
The search didn’t turn up any drugs. The ACLU sued the district and will argue Savannah’s case before the Supreme Court.
“Child health experts are backing Savana in this case,” said ACLU attorney Adam Wolf. “They agree that a strip search of a child inflicts trauma similar in kind and degree to sexual abuse.”
School administrators said they have to be able to protect the entire student body from individuals who may bring drugs or guns to school.
“The search was done following all the necessary constitutional standards, and really with care that the student’s dignity was respected,” said Francisco Negron of the National School Boards Association.
Today, Savana (left) is in community college. It’s been six years since the search, but the memory of it still haunts her.
“I gave myself ulcers, bleeding ulcers, and I was always worried, mostly about going to school,” she said.
Her mother, April Redding, told Kauffman, “They changed my kid, and they need to understand what they took away from her.”
Last July the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a 2007 decision that the school district had not violated Savana’s constitutional rights, and held officials were not immune from her suit::
“We conclude that the school officials violated Savana’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. The strip search of Savana was neither “justified at its inception, … nor, as a grossly intrusive search of a middle school girl to locate pills with the potency of two over-the-counter Advil capsules, reasonably related in scope to the circumstances giving rise to its initiation.”
The school district appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, saying that the Ninth Circuit’s ruling “upsets the longstanding tradition of deferring to the judgment and expertise of school officials in highly discretionary matters. The result is an opinion wholly uninformed about a disturbing new trend – teens’ abuse of prescription and over-the-counter drugs.”
The Supreme Court granted certiorari in the case and will hear arguments on Tuesday.
Savana and her mother will be in attendance.