kitchen table math, the sequel: always worse than you think

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

always worse than you think

In July, the 9th Circuit court ruled that a strip-search of an 8th grader by school authorities looking for prescription-strength Ibuprofen pills violated the student’s rights under the Fourth Amendment.

A panel of the court ruled 8-3 on July 11 that officials at an Arizona middle school “acted contrary to all reason and common sense as they trampled over” the privacy interests of Savana Redding. By a vote of 6-5, the panel held that the assistant principal who ordered the strip-search was not entitled to qualified immunity from liability in the student’s lawsuit.

Ms. Redding was searched in 2003 as part of an investigation into the possession of over-the-counter and prescription medications by students at Safford Middle School in the Safford school district.

After receiving a report that Ms. Redding, who was 13 at the time, had been distributing Ibuprofen pills to fellow students, school officials searched the girl’s backpack, then asked a female administrative assistant to go through her clothing. Ms. Redding had to remove her pants, lift the waist band of her underpants, and lift her shirt and pull out her bra band, according to court papers. No contraband was found.

Ms. Redding and her parents challenged the school officials’ actions as a violation of her Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches. They lost before a federal district court and before an initial three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit court. But the 9th Circuit granted a review by a larger panel of judges.

In that decision, the 9th Circuit majority said the strip search was “excessively intrusive,” especially considering that school officials were relying on an uncorroborated tip from another student who had been caught in possession of the pills.


The school district’s appeal of that decision in Safford Unified School District v. Redding (Case No. 08-479) was also supported by national school groups. The NSBA and the AASA called for the Supreme Court to provide greater guidance to school administrators about the legality of student searches.

The 9th Circuit court’s ruling “unfairly places school officials in the position of being sued and held personally responsible for good faith decisions intended to protect the health and safety of students entrusted to their care and tutelage,” the education groups said.

Supreme Court to Weigh IDEA, Strip-Search Cases
Published Online: January 16, 2009
EDUCATION WEEK Vol. 28, Issue 19
You have to love the fact that the National School Board Association, aka "elected representatives," is weighing in against the child and her parents, aka "voters."

You also have to love the fact that this girl was strip-searched on the say-so of a kid who actually had prescription-strength Ibuprofen in her possession.

1 comment:

Doug Sundseth said...

1) I absolutely agree that the school's action was unconscionable.

But 2) If I understand qualified immunity from section 1983 lawwsuits correctly (IANAL), for such a suit to succeed, the right must be both "clearly established" and one that a "reasonable person would have known". See this document (for example) for more information.

When this thing first made the press, I thought a section 1983 suit was a slam dunk, but the fact that both the original court opinion and the first appellate opinion disagreed that the actions violated rights at all would seem to me to indicate that the rights were not "clearly established", and should preempt such a suit.

I think that section 1983 doctrine (as currently interpreted by the courts) is wrong-headed, but it's the law. And punishing people or groups outside the law is worse than not punishing them for morally bankrupt conduct. (See also: Lori Drew.)