The Supreme Court once famously said that students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate. But that principle is all too often ignored in schools all over the country including here in Michigan.
This morning, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in an ACLU case from Arizona in which Savana Redding, an eighth-grade honor student with no history of disciplinary problems, was strip searched by school administrators in a futile hunt for prescription-strength ibuprofen pills. After a search of Savana's backpack turned up nothing, school administrators -- despite a lack of any evidence that Savana might be hiding the pills on her body -- forced her to undress and expose her private parts to prove she had done nothing wrong.
This was a thoroughly humiliating, degrading, and invasive experience for Savana. What's more, it was completely unnecessary. It defies reason to suspect that school officials were going to find ibuprofen pills in Savana's underwear or under her bra. But school officials have gone all the way to the Supreme Court to defend their actions, insisting they did nothing wrong.
One might hope that Savana's experience is unusual. But at the ACLU of Michigan we have received several complaints in recent years about unjustifiable strip searches of students in Michigan schools. School officials in Whitmore Lake, Ecorse, and Roseville have subjected students to humiliating and unreasonable strip searches in blatant disregard of their constitutional rights.
Could what happened to Savana Redding happen to your son or daughter?
If your child attends public school in Michigan, now is a good time to call your principal, superintendent, or school board to learn about your school system's strip search policies and practices. Ask them under what circumstances a school official is allowed to strip search a student without permission from a parent or a judge. If you don't like the answer, organize a coalition of parents to demand that the school board adopt a reasonable and sane policy to protect students' privacy rights.
The Supreme Court was right – students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate. Let's make sure those rights are maintained and respected.
By Dan Korobkin, ACLU of Michigan Staff Attorney