- The Washington Times - Monday, April 27, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

We don’t want school principals looking at our daughters naked, and we’re sure you don’t either.

The U.S. Supreme Court is weighing whether Arizona public-school officials wrongly strip searched a 13-year-old girl falsely accused of carrying over-the-counter pain medication. We hope the justices don’t endorse untrained educators applying a standard to underage school kids that’s fitting for convicts entering prison. The need for strict rules and security in public schools is clear, and we sympathize with how unruly many schools are today, but limits and logic are important in managing the education environment.

Last Tuesday, the high court heard arguments in Safford Unified School District No. 1, et al., v. April Redding. The case involves Miss Savana Redding, who argues her Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure were violated when the vice principle of her Arizona middle school ordered her to be strip-searched in 2003. She was 13 years old and in eighth grade at the time. Accused by a single student of having prescription-strength ibuprofen pills, Miss Redding was forced to strip down, stretch out her bra and shake in front of two female school officials. Her parents were not contacted beforehand.

This was clearly an unconstitutional act. The 1985 Supreme Court decision New Jersey v. T.L.O. found that school officials needed only reasonable suspicion - not probable cause - to search a student’s purse. But the court also warned in that pot-related case against searches being “excessively intrusive in light of the age and sex of the student and the nature of the infraction.” That judgment set an obvious threshold that Miss Redding’s forced display surpassed.

The educator’s cause of alarm was also overblown. Any medication can be dangerous if used improperly, but ibuprofen is not a narcotic. It has been available in any drug store without a prescription since 1984. Miss Redding was accused of hiding a prescription version of the pill that equaled two of the 200-milligram tablets of the over-the-counter variety. She wasn’t trying to hide joints or meth in her locker, or anything like that.

Without order, education is impossible, but this is a prime example of bad judgment and hysteria run amok. School administrators function in loco parentis - in the place of a parent - not in place of the police. Strip searches and whether to conduct them are best left up to law-enforcement professionals, not guidance counselors.

Despite the long effort by teacher’s unions to ensure that educators are not held accountable for their actions, when parents entrust their children to schools they expect sound judgment and caution. In this case, both were lacking.

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