Teen Strip-Search Case Goes to High Court


The United States Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case of Savana Redding, who was strip-searched by authorities at Safford Middle School when she was just 13 years old.

In 2003, Redding was accused by a fellow student of providing over-the-counter ibuprofen pills; since the school maintains a policy of zero tolerance for any medication without prior, written parental consent, officials searched the girl’s backpack.

When this revealed nothing, two female school district employees, including the nurse, ordered Redding to strip to her underwear so that they could search her clothing and body. The strip search was conducted even though Redding had had no prior disciplinary record or behavioral problems.

The issue here is whether school officials have greater discretion to conduct such searches within the boundaries of a campus than police officers do in similar cases involving adults in public places. Attorneys for Redding call the search unconstitutional, claiming that she has the same rights as an adult.

Educators, however, say that school settings are exempt from such constitutional prohibitions, and warn that a ruling against them could put school safety at risk, making it more difficult for them to create a drug-free campus and classrooms.

A federal appeals court declared the search illegal and “traumatizing.” Elaborated the court, “Common sense informs us that directing a 13-year-old to remove her clothes, partially revealing her breasts and pelvic area, for allegedly possessing ibuprofen…was excessively intrusive.”

Redding, who was an eighth-grade honors student at the time of the search, said in an affidavit that “the strip search was the most humiliating experience I have ever had. I held my head down so that they could not see that I was about to cry.”

The Safford School District, which lies about 130 miles from Tucson, AZ, claimed that they were trying to maintain a safe, drug-free campus environment, and said that the court is “wholly uninformed about a disturbing new trend,” that of teens who abuse over-the-counter medications.

The case, which may have a landmark effect on the concept of students’ rights, and schools’ responsibilities, is not the first such argument to be heard by the high courts. Other opinions handed down by the Supreme Court have allowed schools to conduct random drug testing in the cases of high-school athletes and to search students’ lockers if there was reasonable evidence that the student in question was harboring contraband.


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