U.S. Supreme Court takes up Ariz. school strip

By Nick R. Martin | January 16th, 2009 | 4:05 pm | No Comments »

U.S. Supreme Court building. Photo courtesy Wadester16 on Wikipedia

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed today to review the civil rights case of an Arizona girl who was strip-searched in 2003 by middle school officials who were looking for prescription drugs, which they never found. The eventual decision on the case could have wide-ranging implications as to how much evidence is needed before school officials can preform intrusive searches on their students.

The case focuses on a 13-year-old named Savana Redding from the small city of Safford, Ariz., who was called into her assistant principal’s office one day in 2003 to answer questions about a folder that was discovered with knives, a lighter and a cigarette. When the girl told the assistant principal the folder was hers but that she had lent it to a friend and didn’t know the about the items inside, the official then pointed to several prescription-strength ibuprofen pills that were also found with the folder. Redding denied any knowledge about the pills, but soon was being led into the school nurse’s office. She was told to strip so the female officials in the room could look for more pills. The girl young girl ended up being asked to expose her breasts and genitals to the female officials in the room, but no pills were ever found, court records show.

Backed by attorneys from the ACLU, Redding and her family ended up suing the Safford Unified School District No. 1, saying the officials violated her Fourth Amendment rights. After years of legal battles and losing cases in two lower courts, the girl claimed victory last year in the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, whose judges determined the search was not justified. The school board, however, asked the Supreme Court to take a look at the case, and today the justices agreed.

In the school board’s petition for the high court to take up the case, Phoenix attorney Matthew Wright wrote that the appellate court’s decision was “wholly uninformed about a disturbing new trend — teens’ abuse of prescription and over-the-counter drugs” and that the school district was on the “front lines” of the war on drugs. It also said school officials across the nation were “understandably alarmed” by the limits imposed on them by the decision.

Wright did not return a phone call for comment. The ACLU’s Phoenix-based on the case, Daniel Pochoda, could not be reached for comment.

The school board was supported with a friend of the court brief by the National School Boards Association, which represents board members of some 15,000 school boards nationally, and the American Association of School Administrators. The organizations argued that Safford school officials had “reasonable suspicion” to perform a strip-search on the girl, and the Ninth Circtuit’s opinion essentially handcuffed the abilities of school administrators nationwide to protect students.

HEAT CITY plans to follow this case closer in the future, as well as try to get comment from the parties involved. Stay tuned.