Students cannot be stripped of rights
Public-school students in a post-Columbine world don’t surrender their basic constitutional rights when they enter school grounds, the U.S. Supreme Court determined Thursday.
In particular, the high court reached the entirely sensible conclusion that students can’t be strip-searched on the whim of school administrators when there is little evidence of grave danger to other students.
The 8-1 decision came in the case of an Arizona middle school girl who was strip-searched in 2003 after another student accused her of handing out Ibuprofen to others.
School authorities first searched Savana Redding’s locker and backpack. When they found no drugs there, the vice principal made the unjustified decision to have the school nurse and another female take Savana into private room and search her more intimately. The 13-year-old with no previous discipline problems was ordered to remove all her clothes but her bra and panties, then pull those items away from her body so that the nurse and other
woman could look inside.
The Supreme Court said that violated Redding’s Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure. We wholeheartedly agree.
But the high court also recognized that school officials have more leeway than cops on the street when it comes to searches aimed at preserving health and safety of other students.
The court said the search of Redding’s locker, backpack and outer clothing was reasonable and legal.
It also ruled that school officials can’t be held personally liable in a civil lawsuit for taking actions they believed were being performed in the line of duty.
The court left it to lower courts to determine whether the school district could be held liable for the constitutional violations.
Thursday’s ruling was a nearly unanimous victory for common sense. (Only Justice Clarence Thomas dissented.) The Supreme Court said school authorities still have broad latitude to search students for things like drugs and weapons. But that authority has limits. Strip-searching a student based entirely on the word of another student, especially when there is no immediate threat, clearly goes beyond those limits.