Pubdate: Mon, 06 Jul 2009
Source: AlterNet (US Web)
Copyright: 2009 Independent Media Institute
Author: Krystal Quinlan, Legal Intern at the Drug Policy Alliance Office
of Legal Affairs. 


The U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision in Safford Unified School
District v. Redding is a sign that the High Court's drug war fever may
finally be breaking.

Savana Redding, a thirteen-year-old honor student, was strip-searched
at school after a classmate falsely accused her of possessing
prescription-strength ibuprofen (one pill is equivalent to two Advil).
The school's zero tolerance policy prevents students from bringing any
medication (prescription or over-the-counter) to school without
administrative approval.

The vice-principal confronted Redding and searched her

Redding then was forced to remove her clothing and expose her

No pills were found.

Strip-searching a thirteen-year-old girl for Advil is a flagrant
overreaction to the problem of student drug use. The vice-principle
was not looking for a suspected weapon: he was after ibuprofen --
something many girls carry to school privately with parental consent
to relieve menstrual cramps.

He could have easily called Redding's mother and spared Redding the
humiliation of having to expose herself.

Redding's Supreme Court victory represents a welcome change from the
judicially sanctioned drug war hysteria that has plagued the High
Court for the past 25 years, allowing school administrators to run
roughshod over the Bill of Rights in the name of protecting youth.

Things looked promising in 1968 when the Supreme Court applied First
Amendment protection to schools and told administrators that students
do not "shed their constitutional rightsat the schoolhouse gate."
However, by 2007, the Court upheld the suspension of a student for
displaying a banner at a public event that read "BONG HiTS 4 JESUS"
because of the banner's questionable connection to the "serious and
palpable dangers" posed by student drug abuse.

In 1985, the Supreme Court rightly recognized that schoolchildren have
legitimate expectations of privacy at school under the Fourth
Amendment. While prisoners do not have legitimate privacy
expectations, the Court said, "[w]e are not yet ready to hold that the
schools and the prisons need be equated for purposes of the Fourth
Amendment." But by 2002, the Supreme Court allowed public schools to
drug test students who participate in non-athletic extracurricular
activities (think chess club, marching band and 4H) because of "the
nationwide epidemic of drug use." Now, administrators can force
students who aspire to learn outside the classroom to urinate in a cup
under their watchful eye and grant all adult activity leaders access
to sensitive student medical information.

Drug war hysteria fuels irrational behavior -- with pernicious
results. In 2003, SWAT team officers seized and restrained South
Carolina high school students at gunpoint while a police dog sniffed
for drugs.

The raid was initiated on the principal's suspicion that one student
was selling marijuana.

No drugs were found.

But the danger and trauma that the students endured was already

To their credit, eight justices in Savannah Redding's case addressed
the traumatic effects of being strip-searched and recognized school
districts that have banned the practice under all circumstances --
sending a clear message to school administrators that strip-searching
students is not just illegal in many cases, but almost always unwise.

Most immediately, being strip-searched can inflict acute and
long-lasting emotional damage on adolescents. Self-conscious youth are
vulnerable to psychological trauma, which manifests in depression and
anxiety disorders, even Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Moreover, by
authorizing school officials to strip-search students, educators are
transformed into policemen.

Such policies erode relationships of trust and hinder open and honest
communication between students and teachers, which are essential
elements of a safe and productive learning environment that teach
adolescents to make healthy life choices.

The purpose of school is to educate and prepare children to inherit
the future. Justice William J. Brennan once wrote, "The schoolroom is
the first opportunity most citizens have to experience the power of
government. Through it passes every citizen and public official, from
schoolteachers to policemen and prison guards.

The values they learn there, they take with them in

The Supreme Court has, at best, a checkered history when it comes to
knowing how to protect children from the dangers of drugs.

Accordingly, it is incumbent upon teachers and school administrators
to be mindful of the lessons we teach our children to help them reach
adulthood as healthy and responsible citizens.
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr