WASHINGTON --- The U.S. Supreme Court announced Friday it will decide if the 2003 strip-search of a 13-year-old Arizona female student was reasonable or if it violated her Constitutional rights. The Court will also determine whether the girl is entitled to a financial settlement from the school district or the school official who ordered the search.
The decision could have a lasting affect on a school's drug enforcement policies.
The case, Redding v. Safford Unified School District, was appealed from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which found the strip search to be unconstitutional. A six-judge majority of the appeals court further held that the school official who ordered the search is not entitled to immunity as a result of his actions.
"Overzealous school officials stripped our client of her clothes and her constitutional rights," said Steven R. Shapiro, Legal Director of the ACLU, a plaintiff in the case. "We are confident that the Supreme Court will recognize that such conduct has no place in America’s schools and will protect the privacy rights of America’s students."
Savana Redding, an eighth grade honor roll student at Safford Middle School in Safford, Arizona, was pulled from class on October 8, 2003 by the school’s vice principal, Kerry Wilson. Earlier that day, Wilson had discovered prescription-strength ibuprofen - 400 milligram pills equivalent to two over-the-counter ibuprofen pills, such as Advil - in the possession of Redding’s classmate. Under questioning and faced with punishment, the classmate claimed that Redding, who had no history of disciplinary problems or substance abuse, had given her the pills. Safford maintains a zero-tolerance policy toward all prescription medicines, including prescription-strength ibuprofen.
After escorting Redding to his office, Wilson presented Redding with the ibuprofen pills and informed her of her classmate’s accusations. Redding said she had never seen the pills before and agreed to a search of her possessions, wanting to prove she had nothing to hide. Joined by a female school administrative assistant, Wilson searched Redding’s backpack and found nothing. Instructed by Wilson, the administrative assistant then took Redding to the school nurse’s office in order to perform a strip search.
In the school nurse’s office, Redding was ordered to strip to her underwear. She was then commanded to pull her bra out and to the side, exposing her breasts, and to pull her underwear out at the crotch, exposing her pelvic area.
The strip search failed to uncover any ibuprofen pills.
"The strip search was the most humiliating experience I have ever had," said Redding in a sworn affidavit following the incident. "I held my head down so that they could not see that I was about to cry."
The ACLU says the strip search was undertaken based solely on the uncorroborated claims of the classmate facing punishment. The groups says no attempt was made to corroborate the classmate’s accusations among other students or teachers, no physical evidence suggested that Redding might be in possession of ibuprofen pills or that she was concealing them in her undergarments. Furthermore, the classmate had not claimed that Redding currently possessed any pills, nor had the classmate given any indication as to where they might be concealed. No attempt was made to contact Redding’s parents prior to conducting the strip search.
"It offends both common sense and the Constitution to undertake such an excessive, traumatizing search based on nothing more than an uncorroborated accusation of ibuprofen possession," said Adam Wolf, an attorney with the ACLU and counsel of record in the case. "Our fundamental right to privacy must not be cast aside when faced with groundless allegations rooted in unfounded fears of adolescent Advil abuse."
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