Zero tolerance could get stripped

Does the responsibility to protect students give school authorities the right to strip-search them? Especially when there is little probable cause?

Does attending public school mean giving up some of your constitutional rights? Especially in a post-Columbine world?

Those questions will be explored this week when the U.S. Supreme Court takes up the case of an Arizona teenager who was strip-searched in 2003 because a fellow student claimed
she gave out ibuprofen to other students.

The court should make it clear that school authorities don’t have the right to act like a dictator’s police force, ignoring basic constitutional protections, simply because they hear rumors of student activities that may violate zero-tolerance rules.

Yes, school authorities are under increasing pressure to protect students from violence and drugs. And they already operate under different standards than law enforcement officials dealing with society as a whole.

As Grand Junction High School Principal Jon Bilbo said in an article in The Daily Sentinel regarding the 10th anniversary of the killings at Columbine High School, “We have more flexibility to protect students than the police have to protect the community at large.”

For instance, schools can search student lockers or packs without a warrant. And they can order random drug tests for those involved in extracurricular activities. Those should remain.

The Arizona school where Savana Redding attended eighth grade in 2003 had a zero-tolerance rule for drugs, including over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen without written permission from the parents.

When a vice principal was told by one of Savana’s classmates that she gave others ibuprofen, he ordered Savana’s backpack searched. Savana, a good student with no previous disciplinary problems, denied giving out drugs.

When the backpack search turned up nothing, the vice principal ordered two female employees to take Savana into a private room and search her person. They commanded her to strip to her bra and panties, then pull each of them away from her body so they could look inside. They found nothing.

It was a humiliating experience that went way beyond what was justified, based on the nature of the alleged violation and the information available to school officials.

The Supreme Court should make it clear to school officials in Arizona and around the country that the 4th Amendment prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure hasn’t been forfeited by schools’ zero-tolerance rules.


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