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Cole Parker

Strip searching middle schoolers

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The Supreme Court is deciding whether it's legal to strip search school kids. The cases started when a middle school vice-principal had a 13-year-old honor student strip searched because he suspected her of having a Tylenol pill hidden in her clothing.

If nothing else, this subject should be fodder for writers. Think of the possibilities! Although the stories that were written might well be more appropriate for Nifty than AD. :lipssealed:

Having read both sides of the argument, I think I weigh in with the putative opinion of the court, that it is legal to do this. It sounds a bit draconian, and if I ponder how I'd have felt at 13 if a school nurse had stripped me naked I can see the seriousness of the complaint, but I find the other side of the case more compelling. The schools have an in loco parentis responsibility for the kids. Drugs are rampant in many schools. If administrators have reasonable and supported suspicions that a student has a drug on his person, it can be argued that it is their responsibility to find it to protect that kid and others he might pass it to.

However, as a writer, I worry about abuses if this becomes the stated law of the land. I can imagine, as any writer could, paedophilic admins taking advantage of the situation, especially if they are infatuated with one particular child.

But still, how bad really is it to undress in front of two adults? I'm sure this wouldn't be done with just one adult, or the kid could yell about what supposedly happened. Kids undress in front of doctors, each other, gym teachers, physician's assistants, they get checked for hernias before playing sports. It can be traumatic, but it doesn't have to. I think the kid may be more upset about being wrongly accused of having drugs on him than briefly being exposed in a search.

Anyone else have any thoughts?

C

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Benjamin Franklin had a thought,

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

The experience of my own school years makes me doubt any fairness in this idea. I was subjected to teacher bullying constantly and with more than one of them present.

While I admire the teaching profession in education, I wouldn't trust them as far as I could throw them to not take advantage of a child in a strip search.

If, and it is a big if, for me, it becomes absolutely necessary for a strip search, then it should only be done by a qualified health care professional and an independent substance abuse officer, with the child having the right to have their choice of their legal guardian or a lawyer present. Such an entourage may be thought to intimidate the child even more, but at least he/she will have the comfort of knowing they have the right to appoint someone who is protective of their welfare.

Certainly no teacher or member of the faculty should have the power to strip search a student as and when the teacher feels like it might be warranted. That puts both child and teacher at risk.

Anyway, Guantanamo Bay is supposed to be closed by the end of the year. :lipssealed:

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You certainly make valid points. I can see good arguments on both sides of this issue. So if both sides have good arguments, what do we do? What do you think provides the greatest good? Is it better to allow children to protect their modesty and conceal drugs, or is it better for them to know that if they have drugs in their possession, their modesty won't protect them?

Your situation was different from what prevails today. When you and I went to school, there were no such thing as children's rights. I certainly never heard of them, and you probably didn't either. Whatever the teacher or principal did, it was his right to do. If I'd complaint about a teacher to my father, I'd hear nothing but praise for him and a statement to the effect I needed to get my act together. This was rather standard operating procedure in society back then.

Today things are different. We weren't a litigious society then. We are now. Kids weren't overprotected then. They are now. You were treated unfairly, and the school got away with it. Do you really think that would be the norm today? It might still happen in the South, in the US, but not in most other places. And even there, things are changing.

Certainly, if we're going to strip search children, there have to be sound reasons to do so, and the procedure needs to guarantee the minimum embarrassment of the child. I agree that he should be allowed to have whomever he wants with him at the time, though I'd guess most boys wouldn't want their mothers there. I think the student might have some say over what adults are there, but that probably wouldn't work. The school is in charge for the well-being of the students, and they have to be allowed to run things in the best possible way.

If this is abused, there is no doubt the families involved and then the community will be outraged, and repeat offenses not tolerated.

C

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I've been following this case and I see the situation as that a strip search is legal, but only if the circumstances warrant it. In this particular case, the drugs in question were over-the-counter drugs and the only evidence the school had that the student had the drugs was that another student was found with the drugs and said that the girl who was strip-searched had given them to her.

In other words, purely off the word of a student who was in trouble for having the drugs, they strip searched another student. They had no other reason presented to court for conducting the strip search of that particular student, or for believing that the alleged drugs would be secreted in the girl's underwear. So, in this case, I don't think the strip search was warranted and hence is an illegal search.

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The facts you present, Graeme, are why this is being heard by the Supreme Court. Should the right to do this be entirely in the hands of the school? Can it act on suspicion alone? Are their limits to what then can and can't do?

I agree that it certainly seems egregious to strip search a young girl to find out of she has a Tylenol secreted on her. It seems like overkill. Perhaps better judgment should have prevailed. But, does or does not a school have the right to search lockers, and backpacks, and children's clothes, if they suspect rules are being broken?

In today's world, strange as it seems to us, children are not allowed medications at school. Such medications have to be administered by a trained school official. It is against the rules of most schools for a kid to bring a Tylenol from home and take it when he/she wants to. It does make some sort of sense when you realize that a teacher, seeing a kid pop a pill, has no idea whether it's a legal or illegal substance. Hence, the rule.

If one weighs the extremes here, it would seem a choice between, at the worst on one hand a child being embarrassed, perhaps strongly embarrassed, and the worst on the other hand of kids bringing drugs to school to pass on to their friends and knowing they couldn't be caught if they concealed them in their underwear.

To me, one is a lot worse than the other.

C

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I just cannot accept the faculty having the right to do anything more than ask for an investigation from a source outside the school system, with the parents consent. The case in question should be enough but I'll try to explain why.

I have spoken to young students and they all tell me that teachers still use ridicule and harass them as I was harassed except for the physical caning that was fashionable when I went to school. They still get ostracized by members of the teaching staff as well as their peers for no reason other than that they are different. In other words victimisation still happens in schools. The students tell me of the stress suffered by the teachers, not from teaching, but from the education bureaucracy demanding more and more red tape and paper work. Quite frankly, the stress on the teacher of having to perform a strip search would be enough to break some teacher's spirit.

I was fortunate in that I had a mother who stood up to the school and made them back down. I can still remember the poor woman in tears because the headmaster told her that her brat of a child was setting a bad example for the other children because I had a medical condition which precluded me from playing sport.

I was astounded to learn in later years that there were classes on further education orientation that were withheld from me.

No wonder I am so anti-social. :lipssealed:

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Below is an analysis of the Supreme Court oral arguments from Scotusblog.com, and here are the Full case documents. There's a fine background section in the URL above.

Analysis:

With an undercurrent of fear running across the Supreme Court bench about drug abuse among school students, and a perception that young people will try hard to avoid detection, the Justices searched anxiously on Tuesday for a way to clarify ? and perhaps to enhance ? public school principals? authority to conduct personal searches of the youths in their charge.

The result was that a federal government attorney and a civil liberties lawyer appeared hard-pressed to persuade a majority that strip-searches of students should be very strictly curbed in public schools. What was less clear, though, was how a majority could come together to spell out a new Fourth Amendment principle to govern that situation.

It was common for members of the Court ? and, especially, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ? to express discomfort with an Arizona prinicipal?s order for a close-to-naked search of a 13-year-old girl. But that sentiment did not appear to be as strong as the concern that drugs may be so destructive for teenagers that some surer means of detecting them had to be acceptable under the Constitution.

No more telling illustration of the Court?s mood emerged than Justice David H. Souter ? whose vote would almost have to be won for student privacy to prevail ? expressing a preference for ?a sliding scale of risk? that would add to search authority ? including strip searching ? based on how school officials assessed whether ?sickness or death? was at stake.

?If the school official?s thought process,? Souter asked, ?was ?I?d rather have a kid embarrassed rather than some other kid dead,? isn?t that reasonable under the Fourth Amendment?? Stated in that stark way almost compelled agreement, without regard to whether a student singled out for a strip search was actually adding to such a risk, but was only the target of a classmate?s unverified tip.

Along with Souter, two other Justices whose votes might turn out to be crucial ? Stephen G. Breyer and Anthony M. Kennedy ? were plainly more concerned about the drug problem than with student privacy. Both of those Justices, in past cases involving students and suspected drug use, have suggested that students? rights were not very sturdy.

The argument in Safford United School District v. Redding (08-479) left the clear impression that the Court was ready to rule expressly on the constitutionality of strip-searches at public schools.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., sought a few times to raise the possibility that school officials in the case might be found to have legal immunity for the search, so the Court would have no need to write a clear-cut Fourth Amendment ruling, but that approach apparently drew support from no other Justice, at least at this stage.

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Quote; If, and it is a big if, for me, it becomes absolutely necessary for a strip search, then it should only be done by a qualified health care professional and an independent substance abuse officer, with the child having the right to have their choice of their legal guardian or a lawyer present.

Taking into view how very easily embarrassed a kid would be in these circumstances I think it would be vitally important that any searchers should be of the same gender as the kid being searched. This would be even more important should the kid to be found to be not be carrying anything illegal.

Adolescents are very shy about nakedness despite doctors exams and lockeroom showers anyway and they have the right to have their modesty protected at least in part by ensuring a same gender rule is strictly put in place.

Imagine yourselves at 13 or so and some horror of a nurse is fingering your most private parts looking for illegal substances. Imagine this particularly if you are totally innocent and its also someone you are likely to see for the next several years each school day.

Thinking of it this way has me doubting that it should be made legal in the first place particularly with the amount of pedo's that are supposedly about.

I agree with you Brit18UK. Your points are exactly why I said the search was a big if, for me, and why I think that the search should be only be done (if at all) by at least two professional people who are outside the daily school environment, safeguarded by an observer of the child's choice. At the very least the observer could be in a waiting area next to the examination room.

The trauma for the child, whether guilty or not, is nigh on an infringement of children's human rights. In the wrong hands of say, a vindictive school officer, and yes they do exist, such trauma would, in my opinion, result in affecting, even restricting, the child's self-esteem and development in much the same way as a paedophile.

Laws governing the search must be sufficiently stern and enforceable to discourage misuse of any search procedures, and I think penalties for transgression by school officials should be of the same order as those for paedophiles.

I would much prefer that children were deterred from distributing drugs through them being appropriately educated on the evils of drug abuse. It is however a difficult area to police effectively.

I shake my head in despair that such things even need to be discussed. :wav:

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I agree with you Brit18UK. Your points are exactly why I said the search was a big if, for me, and why I think that the search should be only be done (if at all) by at least two professional people who are outside the daily school environment, safeguarded by an observer of the child's choice. At the very least the observer could be in a waiting area next to the examination room.

I cannot imagine any reason whatsoever that would prohibit the child's choice of observer being in the room during the procedure. This is a safeguard for the child's self-esteem and prevents anyone from taking advantage of him through humiliation or degradation. Without his observer present, the searcher(s) could make any disparaging remarks he(they) wished, he(they) could fondle or abuse the boy, and it would be his word against that of an adult. I think if kids are to suffer this affront, they need to be protected to the max.

There are good reasons to do this, reasons that can save lives. But it has to be done with minimal, and I mean absolutely minimal, offense to the child.

C

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I cannot imagine any reason whatsoever that would prohibit the child's choice of observer being in the room during the procedure. This is a safeguard for the child's self-esteem and prevents anyone from taking advantage of him through humiliation or degradation. Without his observer present, the searcher(s) could make any disparaging remarks he(they) wished, he(they) could fondle or abuse the boy, and it would be his word against that of an adult. I think if kids are to suffer this affront, they need to be protected to the max.

There are good reasons to do this, reasons that can save lives. But it has to be done with minimal, and I mean absolutely minimal, offense to the child.

C

Yes I agree with you 100% Cole. In response to Brit18UK's valid concern about embarrassing the child I was attempting to stipulate an absolute minimum for the child to have immediate access to a person of their choice, and I think we agree, a necessary desired situation to protect the child. Sorry if that came out less than clear. I would much prefer the search be made in front of the observing protective adult. I would more prefer that it wasn't necessary at all.

If it were my child, I would be raising hell on high water to stop the search altogether. There has to be a better answer than this affront to children's rights.

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There are good reasons to do this, reasons that can save lives.

I respectfully disagree with you on this point.

Hard drugs kill people but that not what you are likely to find in most middle schools.

The drug you would most likely encounter is pot and it never killed anyone.

This is simply another scare tactic brought to you by the same people who would like to scrap the Constitution and install the goose step.

As pissed off and angry as I was as a middle schooler, pot probably saved lives by mellowing me out and keeping me from becoming a sniper. I'm not exactly sure why but middle school teachers and administrators are some of the biggest jackasses I've ever met. They were either power trippers, perverts or idiots. If anyone needs to be strip searched and more greatly scrutinized, its the teachers and administrators.

The idealized teacher that's good and caring is just as dead as the principal of innocent until proved guilty. More often than not they are clock-watchers and would rather be somewhere else.

When you create a police state for the most vulnerable members of your society, you will soon be living in it too.

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I respectfully disagree with you on this point.

Hard drugs kill people but that not what you are likely to find in most middle schools.

The drug you would most likely encounter is pot and it never killed anyone.

This is simply another scare tactic brought to you by the same people who would like to scrap the Constitution and install the goose step.

As pissed off and angry as I was as a middle schooler, pot probably saved lives by mellowing me out and keeping me from becoming a sniper. I'm not exactly sure why but middle school teachers and administrators are some of the biggest jackasses I've ever met. They were either power trippers, perverts or idiots. If anyone needs to be strip searched and more greatly scrutinized, its the teachers and administrators.

The idealized teacher that's good and caring is just as dead as the principal of innocent until proved guilty. More often than not they are clock-watchers and would rather be somewhere else.

When you create a police state for the most vulnerable members of your society, you will soon be living in it too.

And that is why I would raise hell on high water to stop my child being searched.

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I tend to agree with you on much of what you say, James, vitriol and all.

Especially in this case where the drug they were looking for was a single Tylenol tablet. I wonder if it was an extra-strength one. Oh, that would be doubly serious.

This is another of those no-leniency rules, like suspending a kindergarten kid because his mother screwed up and left a paring knife in his lunch box, or a 5th grader who brings a squirt gun to school.

But, like it or not, drugs are dealt in middle school. In the eastern part of LA county, and the western part of San Bernardino county, there is an enormous amount of meth being produced, sold and used. Middle schoolers are pack animals, and do-what-your-friends-do is the first rule of popularity. Scans of meth users' brains show voids. The stuff eats your brain cells. If there is realistic supposition that there is meth in a school, I'd rather my kid got stripped than his brain made into a colander.

But I want to be in the room when it happens. And I'll turn my back if he wants when it happens. But those guys doing it had better be sympathetic and kind when they do it, or I might be taken in on assault charges.

C

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Kids that grow up with no rights become adults that don't expect any.

Our government is trying to scare us into a strait-jacket with all sorts of boogey-men: be afraid of terrorists, sex offenders, druggies and drug violence and if you complain must be with the terrorists.

We need to realize that the real terrorists are wearing suits and running our economy into the ground while they loot their companies and destroy peoples lives. The real molesters are writing laws that encroach on our civil rights a little more every day.

We need to stop this relentless march to tyranny before its too late- unless it already is.

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Wow. Quite the situation and discussion since I got too busy to keep up with the postings.

Abuse is a certainty. The abuse of drugs, the abuse of bullying, the abuse of legal or quasi legal rights and protections. Criminals always use their rights to avoid their punishments.

What am I trying to say? Simply that we cannot just go around abusing the rights of people on the off chance that they may be conducting a criminal act. In this case though, it isn't even a criminal act (Tylenol in school) but just a rule in that school. This can be carried to ridiculous lengths, and will be, at some point or another. Peanuts are deadly to many kids with allergies. We need to strip search kids for hidden peanuts. Why stop at schools? Why not do random strip searches of people in public places? Stop a whole bunch at the entrance to a theatre, concert, shopping mall. I'm sure we will find so much illegal material we can argue that this power should be enshrined in law. For everyone. For everything. For anything.

How can we protect kids from the dangers of drugs? Don't take the damned things. My mother refused to take even an aspirin for much of my growing up. You couldn't have gotten me to take a strange pill even at gunpoint. Teach them to NOT take them, and there could be vials of pure poison in front of them and they wouldn't do any harm at all. It's not like kids are walking around, randomly sticking needles in others and injecting them with drugs. Get a grip, people.

If these searches should be allowed, how do we protect the child from the trauma? I would suggest that ANYONE ACCUSING SOMEONE SHOULD ALSO BE SEARCHED IN LIKE FASHION. This should eliminate a lot of frivolous searches. Also, I think a punitive damage assessment should be levied if nothing is found. A nice fat $1000 for an apology would be a deterrent. However, that still won't solve the issue of the traumatized student. Everyone is different, and something like that would probably have been enough to make me suicidal. I would have felt betrayed by the very people who are professing to be trying to protect me, and I fear I would have done something rash. An incident in Grade 2, at age 7, in which I was verbally embarrassed in front of the class (by the teacher) when it was absolutely not justified caused me to not be able to speak in public (with over 4 or so people present) for nearly 30 years. I simply cannot imagine what a stripping would have done, but I'm sure it would have been much, much worse.

One possible solution to some of these problems could be public nudity. No, I'm not kidding. If everyone walked around totally naked there would be no concealed weapons, drugs, cameras, and there would be a total lack of modesty. Naturists have spoken of this for many years, and they are essentially right. If you grow up seeing it all, the good, the bad, the pretty, the pretty ugly, fat, thin, scarred, and sveldt, young and old, paunchy and trim, then you just don't have those hang-ups anymore.

What truly amazes me is that there is virtually NO effort to eradicate violent or emotional bullying, and yet there is this 'over the top' reaction to drugs. Priorities are screwed up pretty badly.

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I object to strip searching children (or anyone else) by school officials (or any other kind of 'official'), especially over such a damn fool stupid thing, on general principle. If you have probable cause, we have a process for this sort of thing that involves law enforcement, legal counsel, and parental participation. One child ratting on another in an attempt to get some leniency is not, in my view, probable cause. Who is there acting as an advocate for the accused child? Some pervert of a school principal?

No, if you believe a child has done something illegal, involve the police and follow the same rules you follow in a criminal investigation. Doing anything else, in my view, constitutes an illegal search and seizure.

Take a look at the following and show me where the fourth amendment doesn't apply to schoolkids:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Please note it is not otherwise qualified or limited to a specific age group, sex, sexual orientation, or any of the rest of that.

I understand we have a drug problem in this country. I understand that the government has a legitimate need to control dangerous drugs and mitigate their impacts on society. This road, however, is a slippery slope. Once we exclude a specific class of citizen from the protections of the bill of rights, where, exactly, does that end? A recent example can be found in California's last election, or with some pencil-necked government functionary deciding that its OK to do something even worse (one such functionary, 'Mr Torture is OK' is now a Federal Judge).

The most amazing part of this to me is the fact that this pervert of a principal is being supported in doing something so completely outrageous: and supported all the way the the US Supreme Court. The bastard should be in jail instead of a legal cause celeb.

Rick

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Sometimes the good guys win one. This one was an 8-1 decision but here is the fine print:

School administrators CAN call for a strip search if they have reasonable/probable cause. What that actually means is that it is probably going to require another case to define those boundaries.

I think the high court made the right decision in this case: the schools policy taken to the extreme of strip searching a 13 year old honor student to find contraban tylenol was beyond the bounds of reason and abusive.

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I agree. The instant case was egregious abuse of power. I almost always agree that that's wrong. They didn't consider the child being accused, her past conduct, or her personality. That she was very shy should have been taken into account, and the fact that the 'drug' being searched for wasn't a dangerous one had to have had some bearing on the decision to search as well.

The right of the school to search for dangerous drugs in a manner consistent with the level of danger the drugs provide was maintained as well. Sounds like a good day's work for the courts.

I thought Justice Thomas' comments particularly silly. Nothing unusual about that.

C

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