Thursday, July 2, 2009

Constitutional Rights of Students, Part II

by Katherine Scardino

In May, I wrote on Women in Crime about a 13-year-old girl, Savana Redding, who was strip searched by her principal and another school official after a tattler told the school officials that she was a “pill pusher.” The principal and a nurse had her pull aside her bra and to pull open her panties so they could assure themselves that she had no pills, meaning that her breasts and her pubic area were exposed to her principal and the other official. Savana’s friend who ratted on her claimed that she had gotten pills from her and provided a “sample,” which turned out to be 400 mg Ibuprofen. Hence, the search.

As I reported in May, her parents were pretty upset about that and proceeded to file a lawsuit against the school district. They eventually rode the appellate highway all the way to the United States Supreme Court. On June 25, 2009, our nine Supreme Court justices handed down an opinion in Savana’s case.

In a nutshell - yes, the search was unreasonable. School officials cannot strip search a student unless the student’s safety is at stake. Justice Stevens said in
his opinion: “I have long believed that 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 of some magnitude.”

That’s the good news. The bad news is that the student can take a case all the way to Washington, D. C. and win, but you don’t get anything other than a moral victory. The Supreme Court said that the school’s officials could not be held personally liable, as
Justice Roberts said at a judicial conference last week:

“We recognized that they didn’t have very clear guidance. We laid down a rule about what they can and can’t do, but we said they don’t have to fork over damages from their own personal funds if they guess wrong.”

So, that really clears that issue up. We now know that strip searching a student where the student is not in any danger is “unreasonable.” Why would these parents and Savana have to spend all this money, time, and effort and go all the way to the U. S. Supreme Court to find that out? What happened to the judges at the Court of Appeals level? And, only eight justices out of a possible nine indicated that this search was unreasonable. One - and guess who that was - Justice Clarence Thomas - argued the search was legal because legal precedent of the Court had given school officials “considerable leeway” in similar circumstances.

Justice Thomas stated that the search was not unreasonable and that while the Fourth Amendment rights still reach and apply to students, those rights are “different . . . than elsewhere; the ‘reasonableness’ inquiry cannot disregard the schools’ custodial and tutelary responsibility for children.” Justice Thomas has to agree that the Fourth Amendment does apply to students, but in a different way, which can mean that the school can continue to argue that a search of another manner but perhaps equally “unreasonable” is, in fact, reasonable. Lawyers have argued since the inception of the Fourth Amendment about the meaning of the word “unreasonable” - what is and what is not. . . .

But, back to the subject. Savana’s search was unreasonable. Many parents would be equally as outraged as Savana’s apparently were to learn of this happening to their children. What would you think if you filed your lawsuit and carried it all the way to Washington - and got this result? Was it fair? Was the ruling “reasonable” or “unreasonable”?

1 comment:

shthar said...

I think a good punch in the nose would be acceptable damages.

That's the least they would have got for molesting my child. And that's what this was.

I thought when i first heard this story that filing child molestation charges would be the way to go.

Even if you didnt get a conviction it would send a chill through school administrators.