U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Arguments in School Strip Search Case

DETROIT -- In a case with broad implications for students throughout Michigan, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments tomorrow in a lawsuit on behalf of a 13-year-old middle-school girl who was strip searched by school administrators who accused her of possessing prescription-strength ibuprofen. Over the years, several schools’ strip search policies have been challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.

“This Supreme Court case will impact students throughout Michigan and we’re watching it very closely,” said Michael J. Steinberg, ACLU of Michigan Legal Director. “It may come as a shock to many parents, but each year we hear of more and more students having to endure humiliating and degrading strip searches in Michigan schools.”

In recent years, the ACLU of Michigan has advocated on behalf of several students who were illegally strip searched by school administrators in unsuccessful attempts to find such things as lost money, marijuana and prescription drugs.

In fact, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in 2005 that the strip search of more than twenty students at Whitmore Lake High School in 2000 was unconstitutional. The incident occurred in May 2000 when a high school student reported that money had been taken from her gym bag during gym class. In an unsuccessful attempt to find the money, teachers, at the direction of the acting principal, strip-searched all members of the gym class. The boys were forced to pull down their pants and underwear while they were examined by a teacher. The girls were forced to stand in a circle and pull up their shirts and pull down their shorts.

In another incident, the ACLU of Michigan negotiated a new search policy last year with Ecorse Public School District after a 10th grade girl at Combs Community High School was strip searched after she was falsely accused of possessing marijuana by another student. After she denied the allegations in the principal’s office, a female security guard escorted her into a restroom stall for a pat-down. The security guard then demanded that the girl lift her shirt, she then pulled back the girl’s bra to examine her and instructed her to lower her pants. When no drugs were found, the traumatized girl was told to return to class. At no time was her mother called by school officials. After the ACLU of Michigan intervened the school passed a policy that prohibits strip searches of students except in those cases when there is probable cause to believe that a student has an item that presents an imminent danger. The policy also instructs school officials to call the student’s parents before the search if possible.

Currently the ACLU of Michigan is working with a 15-year-old student at Roseville High School who was strip searched by school administrators and the Roseville Police Department’s school liaison officer. In December, the student was falsely suspected of possessing prescription drugs and was ordered to strip to his underwear. The next day, school officials, unsatisfied by the previous strip search performed another search of the student, but this time he was asked to only remove his shirt.

“It is a crime for an officer to strip search a person on the street the way our children are being strip searched in school,” said Steinberg. “The Supreme Court must not allow public schools to become institutions where the Constitution is meaningless.”

Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will hear the case of Savana Redding, an 8th-grade honors student in Safford, Ariz. who was strip-searched by a pair of female school employees in 2003. The search revealed no drugs. Redding's parents sued the school district, saying that the incident violated constitutional protections against unreasonable searches, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco agreed.

"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," wrote Judge Kim McLane for the majority. "More than that, it is a violation of any known principle of human dignity."

However, the Safford Unified School District appealed the decision and the Supreme Court is expected to rule by the end of June. Ms. Redding is represented by ACLU attorney Adam Wolf, a University of Michigan Law School graduate.

To read more about Savana Redding, click here.
To read more about the Whitmore Lake High School mass strip search, click here.
To read our blog about strip searches in school, click here.  

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