A federal court of appeals ruled on Friday, saying Arizona school officials violated the constitutional rights
of a 13-year-old student by subjecting her to a strip search based on an unverified tip made by a fellow classmate.
The ruling, 6-5, by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco overturned a previous ruling by three divided judges from the same court last year.
In the latest decision, judges found school officials violated Savana Redding’s Fourth Amendment right “to be free from unreasonable search and seizure” calling the search, which took place in 2003 “grossly intrusive.”
The girl, an eighth-grade honor student at Safford Middle School, was pulled from class by the assistant principal who was investigating allegations that she was passing out prescription-strength ibuprofen to classmates. A violation of school’s policy toward prescription drugs on school campus, including over-the-counter medications.
Redding denied allegations that she provided pills to classmates and she was escorted to the nurse’s office by an administrative assistant.
The assistant principal ordered his assistant and nurse, both females, to have the student strip down to her underwear and bra. At which point she was ordered to move her bra to the side revealing her breasts and to shift her underwear exposing her pelvic area.
No pills were found.
However, pills were found on campus and a student allegedly named Redding as the person handing them out, argued the school. While the information was not verified, the school felt the search was justified and reasonable.
A three-judge panel ruled 2-1, that the search was constitutional, last September.
The full appellate court ordered the case back to U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Firoa - who first ruled the search was not a violation of the girl’s rights - to determine damages, after finding assistant principal, Kerry Wilson, liable for monetary damages.
The latest ruling found the assistant and nurse would not be held financially liable as they were carrying out the assistant principal’s orders.
The majority further said that forcing the girl to undress was “disproportionately extreme” in nature to the alleged action.
"Common sense dictates that ordering a 13-year-old girl to undress, partially exposing her breasts and pelvic area, for allegedly possessing ibuprofen, an infraction that does not impose any imminent danger to anyone, and which could have been handled by detaining her in the principal’s office until her parent’s arrive or by sending her home was excessively intrusive," wrote Judge Wardlaw, joined by Judges N. Randy Smith, Harry Pregerson, Richard A Paez, Milan D. Smith Jr. and Raymond C. Fisher.
The ruling falls under the 9th Circuit’s jurisdiction and affects California and eight other states. California is one of seven states that prohibit strip-search of students, for any reason.
The ruling sends a clear and present message to school administrators nationwide that they need to respect certain student privacy’s and that they can’t take the drastic steps of strip searching students based on uncorroborated tips obtained from other students, said Adam B. Wolf, a lawyer of the ACLU Foundation, which helped represent the case. #