ACLU Challenges Unlawful Strip Search Over Ibuprofen Allegation In School

Affiliate: ACLU of Arizona
March 3, 2008 12:00 am

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Group Joins Ongoing Case On Behalf Of 13-Year-Old Girl


SAN FRANCISCO – In legal papers delivered today, the American Civil Liberties Union joined an ongoing case to represent a 13-year-old girl unconstitutionally strip searched by school officials after a classmate’s uncorroborated accusation of ibuprofen possession. A divided three-judge panel of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the search constitutional on September 21, 2007. The panel’s 2-1 decision, which greatly expands the circumstances under which schools may strip search students, will now be reviewed by the full Ninth Circuit.

> Supplemental Brief
> ACLU Brief
> NASW Brief
> Rutherford Institute Brief
> Savana Redding’s Affidavit

“All it took in this case was one student pointing the finger at another to trigger a humiliating strip search of a teenage girl by school officials,” said Adam Wolf, an attorney with the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project. “It defies common sense and violates the Constitution for people – especially adolescents – to be strip searched for ibuprofen based solely on the uncorroborated claims of another student trying to get herself out of trouble.”

“Except for emergency situations, few circumstances ever warrant such harmful intrusions,” said Andrew Petersen, an attorney with the law firm Humphrey & Peterson co-representing Redding. “This school treated strip searches as no big deal, although courts and educational leaders have warned against conducting them for many years. Several states prohibit school strip searches by statute and most schools have adopted policies prohibiting or severely restricting them.”

Savana Redding, an eighth grade honor roll student at Safford Middle School in Safford, Arizona, was pulled from class on October 8, 2003 by the school’s vice principal, Kerry Wilson. Earlier that day, Wilson had discovered prescription-strength ibuprofen – 400 milligram pills equivalent to two over-the-counter ibuprofen pills, such as Advil – in the possession of Redding’s classmate. Safford maintains a zero-tolerance policy toward all prescription medicines, including prescription-strength ibuprofen. Under questioning and faced with punishment, the classmate claimed that Redding, who had no history of disciplinary problems or substance abuse, had given her the pills.

After escorting Redding to his office, Wilson presented Redding with the ibuprofen pills and informed her of her classmate’s accusations. Redding said she had never seen the pills before and agreed to a search of her possessions, wanting to prove she had nothing to hide. Joined by a female school administrative assistant, Wilson searched Redding’s backpack and found nothing. Instructed by Wilson, the administrative assistant then took Redding to the school nurse’s office in order to perform a strip search.

In the school nurse’s office, Redding was ordered to strip to her underwear. She was then commanded to pull her bra out and to the side, exposing her breasts, and to pull her underwear out at the crotch, exposing her pelvic area. The strip search failed to uncover any ibuprofen pills.

“I was embarrassed and scared, but felt I would be in more trouble if I did not do what they asked,” said Redding in a sworn affidavit following the incident. “The strip search was the most humiliating experience I have ever had.”

The strip search was undertaken based solely on the uncorroborated claims of the classmate facing punishment. No attempt was made to corroborate the classmate’s accusations among other students or teachers. No physical evidence suggested that Redding might be in possession of additional ibuprofen pills or that she was concealing them in her undergarments. Furthermore, the classmate had not claimed that Redding was currently possessing additional pills, nor had the classmate given any indication as to where they might be concealed. No attempt was made to contact Redding’s parents prior to conducting the strip search.

“This type of overreaction on the part of these school officials is simply indefensible,” said Daniel Pochoda, Legal Director of the ACLU of Arizona. “It’s a clear example of how the so-called war on drugs trumps common sense in our schools. It’s appalling for school officials to undertake such an intrusive search without contacting parents first, and more importantly, without any individualized suspicion.”

The ACLU joined the lawsuit as co-counsel with the law firms Humphrey & Petersen and McNamara, Goldsmith, Jackson & Macdonald. In addition, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) and Rutherford Institute, an international nonprofit civil liberties organization, filed friend of the court briefs in the case in the preceding weeks. NASW’s brief pointed out that strip searches can have a devastating emotional impact on students, deeply and irrevocably affecting the victims’ relationship with their peers and school officials.

Attorneys on the case include Wolf of the ACLU Drug Reform Law Project; Pochoda of the ACLU of Arizona; Petersen of Humphrey & Petersen; and Bruce Macdonald of McNamara, Goldsmith, Jackson & Macdonald.

The lawsuit names as defendants the Safford Unified School District, vice principal Kerry Wilson, school administrative assistant Helen Romero and school nurse Peggy Schwallier.

A hearing in the case, Redding v. Safford, et al., is scheduled before the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on March 24, 2008.

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