Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Strip Searching 13yos

This is one of those WTF?!? moments that occassionally make it into this blog:

Strip Search of 13-Year-Old for Ibuprofen Ruled Unconstitutional

While we don't have the equivalent constitutional protections here in OZ (around which much of the legal debate revolved), you can be sure that any school that decided to strip search my child - at ANY age - without me being present would have hell to pay from me and as many people I can gather together to howl at the Education Department (which over here would be quite a few).

And I don't care how guilty the kid was in fact. There are some bounds you just don't cross, and the equivalent of an institution into which I am forced to place the care of my child committing assult without my knowledge, let alone consent, is one of them.

The actual judgement, while long and somewhat leaglly obtuse, makes for interesting reading - particularly as the ruling was passed with only a 6-5 majority, when you'd think it was pretty bleeding obvious the search was in appropriate.

As another blog mentioned in the original article noted:

“There are two kinds of people in the world: the kind who think it’s perfectly reasonable to strip-search a 13-year-old girl suspected of bringing ibuprofen to school, and the kind who think those people should be kept as far away from children as possible … Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between drug warriors and child molesters.”

The message to my children will be: If you get caught up in a situation, just keep saying "Not until my parents get here".


At 12:20 AM, Anonymous Bismuth said...

I, too, was curious as to how nearly a majority of the judges could be in dissent, so I read the dissenting opinions. Two judges jointly stated that they agreed that the search was unreasonable, but contended that the school should have immunity from prosecution due to the unclear wording of the law.

I'm not sure that I would agree in this instance, but I am of the general opinion that school officials here have been weakened by sue-happy parents to the point where they often take the punishment for what is in reality the parents' laziness in parenting. That doesn't seem to be the case here though.

At 12:21 AM, Anonymous Bismuth said...

I forgot to mention that two other judges seemed to be perfectly OK with the school's actions, and the final dissenting judge did not write (or share) an opinion.

At 3:03 PM, Blogger wysiwyg said...

What I found interesting/alarming in the debate was the absence of any real thrust towards establishing a precident for requiring the parents to be present for a strip search - assuming for the moment that a parent would put up with such a thing. The closest was a footnote remark by the major dissenting judge that the school system should consider involving parents, while arguing equally that interviewing the parents would have added no value in the particular circumstance. Kids, particularly young kids, are very vulnerable and without independent adult advice they can, and this case the student was, monstered into an abusive situation by an over-zealous authority figure.

However, I also think that the dissenting judge did a fair job of establishing that the vice-principal could have had sufficient cause to suspect the girl being searched of potentially carrying drugs, but I don't think that the reasons put forward justified a strip search - inspecting her pockets and bags was about all I would consider was called for. In fact, the almost casual way he proceeded to a strip search despite having only a weak tip from an already guilty student, the denial from the girl herself and lack of any evidence from the bag search, implies this school is conducting strip searches routinely.

While recognising that some US schools have eroded to a the point where weapon toting drug smuggling students are commonplace, I'd go further and say that a strip search by a school is excessive in ANY circumstance. If there is a sufficient body of evidence that a student might have illict drugs or weapons stuffed down their underwear, they ought to call the police in and let the professionals decide whether there are any 4th amendment issues to deal with. As the dissenting judge pointed out, school administrators are not trained in the procedures for establishing probable cause, but unlike that judge I don't agree that we should swerve toward relaxing the rules for them.

At the bottom line it is apparent that there is an acceptance that school administrators have more power over their students than is allowed in mainstream society for adults, and I cannot see that such an environment is a healthy way to raise kids.


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