Violated Rights: Illegal School Search

Savana Redding’s life as a 13-year-old was significantly more complicated than most. When I was 13, my primary concern was what girls thought of me and how soon I could get contact lenses. Others worried about their grades or soccer teams. Unlike us, Redding was stripped searched by school officials based on the uncorroborated tip of a fellow student.

School officials began their search like most others, but events quickly turned horrifying for Redding. After a student was found with prescription strength ibuprofen, which is equivalent to two Advil, she said that she had received it from Redding at an undisclosed time and location. Redding was then removed from class, her backpack was searched and she was taken to the nurse’s office where she was asked to remove her clothes. The search yielded no results.

The Redding family and the American Civil Liberties Union have brought the case to trial in order to seek just compensation. They claim that Redding’s constitutional rights were violated enough to warrant compensation. The case will also set precedent for school policy and the requirements for different kinds of searches of students. The lower court has already decided to give Redding a small consolation for her suffering.

This decision is well-founded. Redding’s right to privacy was violated without proper justification, even though she consented to the search. A strip search is one of the most invasive ways of gathering evidence. The school should have had excellent reasons and substantiation before beginning such a process. Instead of witnesses or evidence, they had a tip from a girl who was already in trouble. This kind of corroboration is of the most unreliable variety and would have at most warranted a search of her backpack.

Those who support the search may argue one of three points. They may explain that it is an issue of safety, or that the schools are not police. A proponent would also argue that she is a child and children have fewer rights than adults, a mentality that seems to suggest that her right to privacy does not need to be upheld. Children cannot vote and they are tried in a separate court system because they do not have the same mental capacity as adults, but this does not entitle authorities to a free-for-all in which they can violate any right they choose. People of all ages and nations have fundamental rights to safety, life and liberty as expressed in the preamble of our Constitution. Thus, it is safe to say children have a fundamental right not to be stared at while naked, regardless of age.

School officials may have a right to employ such extreme measures if safety is the issue. In the police world, Miranda and search rights can be ignored if there is a significant chance that harm will come to someone if they are not ignored. For example, if there is a known bomb threat. In addition, schools have an obligation to maintain the safety of their students, even from the students themselves.

However, in this instance, there was no safety issue. The officials were not searching for a bomb or a gun, but prescription pain killers slightly stronger than over-the-counter medication. A bag of cocaine can kill someone, but what Redding was allegedly carrying could not.

Of course, why should schools be held to the same standards as police? When was the last time a teacher hand-cuffed a student and threw them in the back of a squad car? The schools need to be held to the same standards as police because they are an authority controlled by the government. When Redding was asked to remove her clothes, her free will was overridden by unfair means, which violated her 14th amendment rights. Given the school’s almost complete authority over her and her diminished capacity as a minor, she would not have been able to come to the conclusion that she could refuse. Because schools put students in situations like this, they must be held to the same standards as law enforcement.

The case has far reaching implications. Redding is without a doubt not alone. If one school in the country is performing these searches, it is easily possible that others are doing the same. It is possible that there were more searches of a similar nature in Redding’s school and she was simply the first to come forward. The outcome of this case will help children across the nation secure their constitutional rights and help schools better respect their students.

Kevin Pease is a fourth-year psychology and social behavior major. He can be reached at kpease@uci.edu.