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What Should the Policy be for High School Strip Searches?

June 26, 2009

Safford, AZ – Yesterday's ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that the 2003 strip search of a 13-year old eastern Arizona girl was unconstitutional could help provide schools with valuable guidance, according to some involved in the case. Savana Redding was searched after a classmate told school officials Savana had given her prescription-strength ibuprofen, which would be a violation of school policy. No pills were found.

National Association of Social Workers attorney Carolyn Polowy filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, and says the ruling will give schools some much-needed guidance when it comes to developing policies for student searches.

"This helps to give the schools some more substantive issues to consider before conducting such a search. They really need to have, as the court says, at least a moderate degree of certainty they’re going to find something before they go forward."

Polowy's brief cited research about the effects of intrusive searches on vulnerable adolescents.

"Their privacy is completely invaded, requiring them to undress down to their underwear, looking into their underwear. This can have detrimental psychological effects, both immediate and long-term."

The ruling is an important affirmation of civil rights, Polowy adds.

"It confirms that children, including teenagers, have rights in our society; rights that need to be upheld and observed, and I think that’s important."

Polowy hopes schools would also consider requesting parental consent for such searches and allowing parents to be present. Redding went from being an honor student to dropping out of school, but reportedly is now a psychology major in college at age 19. The lone dissenting justice in the eight-to-one decision, Clarence Thomas, said the ruling could backfire, as students now know the safest place to hide contraband.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ