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Strip Search of 13-Year-Old for Drugs Unconstitutional, High Court Says

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Arizona school officials violated a middle-school girl's Constitutional protection against unreasonable searches when they strip-searched her on suspicion of possessing prescription ibuprofen in school, the New York Times reported June 26.

The 8-1 decision in favor of Safford, Ariz., student Savana Redding called the strip search “embarrassing, frightening and humiliating.” Redding was forced to strip to her underwear in front of school officials after another student said she gave her drugs. No drugs were found; the ibuprofen pills officials were looking for each contained medication equal to two Advil tablets.

The justices did not take issue with a search of Redding's backpack or outergarments but said the strip-search — which included ordering the 13-year-old to pull her bra and underwear away from her body to prove that neither contained drugs — was excessive. “The content of the suspicion failed to match the degree of the intrusion,” the court opined.

Only Justice Clarence Thomas dissented, saying, “Redding would not have been the first person to conceal pills in her undergarments. Nor will she be the last after today's decision, which announced the safest places to secrete contraband in school.”

The ruling advised school officials to weigh the potential danger of suspected contraband in deciding whether an intimate search is appropriate.

“A number of communities have decided that strip searches in schools are never reasonable and have banned them no matter what the facts may be,” noted Justice David Souter.

The court did bar Redding from suing the assistant principal who ordered the search and two female school officials who conduced it, but a suit against the school district based on its practices and policies was allowed to proceed.

A lawyer for the school district said the high court's ruling hampers “the ability of school officials to protect students from the harmful effects of drugs and weapons on school campuses.”

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