Tuesday, April 21, 2009

What She Learned In School

So, the US Supreme Court is being asked to decide a really tough case. I mean it. It's going to be hard. It could so easily go either way: should they side with the school district who on the flimsiest of suspicion strip-searched a vulnerable thirteen-year-old, or in favor of the girl?

Administrators at an Arizona middle school are asking the US Supreme Court to rule that they did not violate the privacy rights of an eighth-grade girl who was strip-searched in a fruitless attempt to find suspected drugs.

At issue in the case, set for argument Tuesday morning, is whether the strip search of a 13-year-old girl by school officials is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.

Lawyers for the girl and her mother say it was an unconstitutional invasion of the girl's privacy. School officials say their actions were justified because they were trying to protect the student population from a risk to their health and safety.

The case could set a national standard for how far school officials can go in conducting searches of students' property – and even their bodies – while investigating alleged violations of school policies and rules.

"This is the case where the Supreme Court is likely to decide how easy it is for your child to be strip-searched," says Graham Boyd, one of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawyers representing the girl and her mother.

In addition, the high court is being asked to decide whether the assistant principal who authorized the strip search can be shielded by qualified immunity from a lawsuit filed against him by the girl's mother.

Boyd and ACLU lawyer Adam Wolf say the search was based on just one unreliable accusation by a fellow student, which is not sufficient reason to justify such an intrusive search.

"A child's 'private parts' are not subject to observation by school officials without significant justification," said Mr. Wolf, in the brief for the schoolgirl and her mother.

You'll excuse me if I don't link to the rest of this; just file it under the latest reason to homeschool.

In my opinion, Mr. Wolf, the lawyer, is being very understated. I think that a child's private parts are not subject to observation by school officials ever, for any reason. Schools aren't prisons; what's next, body cavity searches in kindergarten? ("I know you took that tube of glue, Timmy, and I'm going to find it!") Good grief.

The girl was accused of sneaking ibuprofen into school and distributing it--on the word of one other girl. The nightmare of humiliation she endured next was wholly unjustified. For heaven's sake, whatever happened to calling a parent or sending the child home, even if you suspect she's concealing a prescription-strength version of an over-the-counter painkiller? Wouldn't you be protecting the "health and safety" of the student body just as well, if not better, than making the girl remove her clothing in front of adults she barely knows?

But this isn't really about protecting the health and safety of the student body. It's about what it always is about with petty school bureaucrats: power. There were plenty of ways to keep this girl from "harming" others, even if she had been concealing drugs--which she was not. There was only one way to degrade her, shame her, and make her an example to the rest of the student body, to flex their authoritarian muscle while making it clear to the young lady that she had no recourse whatsoever to get away from them except to do exactly what they told her to do without argument or complaint. And, sadly, far too many people who end up in positions of authority at schools are all too willing to become little dictators at the slightest opportunity.

SCOTUS should rule in favor of the girl, overwhelmingly and a bit snarkily, if you ask me. The school didn't just strip her of her clothing; they stripped her of her dignity. What she learned in school is that it's okay for people in power to do that whenever they like, with no notion of justice or respect for her as a person at all. And that's one lesson no one should ever have to learn.


RAnn said...

Hi, my name is RAnn and I am the author of This, That and the Other Thing at http://rannthisthat.blogspot.com. This is an invitation to you to participate in Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. This will be a weekly meme in which bloggers can highlight posts somehow relating to Catholicism and invite others to visit their blogs. For more information, check out this week's post. http://rannthisthat.blogspot.com/2009/04/sunday-snippets-catholic-carnival.html

Irenaeus said...

Ibuprofen? Horrors! It's a gateway drug to Alleve!

Tarcisius said...

No verification? ONE other girl? This makes me wonder if the other girl was trying to get the victim in trouble out of spite. And sadly, got her wish. Which opens the gate for twenty-first century bullying: relay false information to officious, busybody school administrators.

MommaLlama said...

First, I don't agree with what they did to her... but if they felt it necessary, they should at the very least contact the parent for permission, RIGHT?

I can't even begin to imagine what that poor girl was thinking when she was being violated, and as a mother what her mom must be going through as well.

I have to agree with Red... just another reason in a ever growing list to homeschool!

I hope the assistant principle is able to be sued, and all those involved!

eulogos said...

I agree. Gee, I have given my kids ibuprofen to take to school many atime. I know their stupid rules about it has to be a prescription and has to go to the nurse, but I don't accept those rules. I think it is perfectly reasonable for a fifteen or sixteen year old with a headache to decide when to take an OTC pain med. I had discussed dosages, side effects, need to take with food, and all that with them way before that, and conveyed my expectation that they would not overuse or misuse medications.
I also took aspirin to high school myself...and plenty of girls used midol for menstrual cramps which was OTC and paritally ibuprofen. The big no-no drug for girls when I was in high school was birth control pills! they found them in a girl's locker in a search for pot and they confiscated them and called her parents; this was considered a terrible thing, an indication of premarital sex. The whole school knew about it. Now they hand them out in school clinics and would never take them away from a girl...yet they are far more dangerous than ibuprofen.

Had my school tried to do this to me, I would have walked out. I think some of my kids would have done the same. I had always taught them, for instance, that if you really have to go to the bathroom and are afraid you will wet yourself, be polite about it but go even if you are refused permission; no one has to submit to such petty tyranny. (Except in situations like the military. )

Did they actually do a cavity search of this girl ....for ibuproffen? Even if they didn't, making a girl that age get naked in front of a strange adult is really abusive.

I worry about the Supreme Court, because the conservative court, all the judges I agree with on a majority of issues, have ruled pretty consistently that students in school do not have the same civil rights as adults. Which I think is correct. But still, they have some rights...and their parents have rights. I certainly hope the court sees that this is way beyond the limits of the school's authority.

When I was 15 my English teacher confiscated Voltaire's Candide from me and wouldn't give it back to me without a note from my parents. As far as she was concerned, it was a dirty book. I thought this was an injustice, but I knew the note would be forthcoming. I suppose teachers have to have that kind of discression in the short term..but the matter was referred to my parents, who were acknowledged to have the right to let me read it.

This girl's parents were not given the right, either to let her take ibuprofen....or to protect her from a physically intrusive humiliation. Perhaps the court can decide this on the basis of parental rights, which they would be inclined to support, rather than of student rights, which they might be hesitant to support.
Susan Peterson

Melanie B said...

I'm still trying to wrap my head around why the parents didn't file criminal charges. How is this not sexual abuse of a child? Had the same school officials been caught with pictures of this student without her clothes, they could have been jailed for possession of child pornography.

I agree with you, Red, no one ever has the right to strip search a child, with or without parental consent.

The police can't question a minor without permission from the child's guardian, how is it that school officials can get away with removing all her clothes?

They say no one touched her, as if that somehow makes it less of a violation; but merely being looked at without consent is sexual abuse. If the male gym coach had been spying on her in the locker room without her clothes, it would be clear that he was invading her privacy and he'd face charges.

Yet another reason to homeschool, yes. But if school officials can do this, then how can I assume my children are safe from any government officials?

Amy said...

I agreethe SCOTUS should rule with the girl. For crying out loud, some courts have ruled a cop can't even pull over a weaving vehicle on the road because there's no probable cause to stop the car for drunk driving.

Ironic, considering the FDA now said it's okay for 17-year-olds to get the "morning after pill" OTC without a prescription. What's the bet that those pills wouldn't warrant a strip search, but some Advil does?