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Drug Strip-Search Case Before Supreme Court

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The U.S. Supreme Court will soon decide whether the desire to keep schools drug-free justified the strip search of a 13-year-old middle-school girl, the New York Times reported March 24.

Savana Redding, an 8th-grade honors student in Safford, Ariz., was strip-searched by a pair of female school employees in 2003; another student had accused Redding of possessing prescription-strength ibuprofen, a violation of the district's drug policy. The search revealed no drugs, however.

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.”

The Safford Unified School District appealed the decision, however, and the case will go before the U.S. Supreme Court on April 21. In 1985, the courts allowed school officials to search a student's purse without a warrant or probable cause, saying that reasonable suspicion of drug possession was sufficient justification for the search.

The U.S. government has sided with Redding, saying the search was unreasonable because school officials had no reason to believe there were drugs hidden “inside her undergarments, attached to her nude body, or anywhere else that a strip search would reveal.”

School-district lawyers said that the schools are “on the front lines of a decades-long struggle against drug abuse among students,” citing federal studies showing a rise in prescription-drug abuse among young teens. The district argued that the search was “not excessively intrusive in light of Redding's age and sex and the nature of her suspected infraction.”

Redding, now in college, said that school officials never asked her if she had drugs before searching her, and did not take into account her academic record and lack of a disciplinary record before accusing her. She did not return to school for months after the search, and eventually transferred to another school.

In a legal brief, the district was dismissive of those arguments. “Her assertion should not be misread to infer that she never broke school rules, only that she was never caught,” the district claimed.

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