The Right to Remain Clothed

By Tess McCarthy (Opinion Editor, Culture Editor, Columnist) [?]

Published: April 26, 2009 and Updated: April 28, 2009
Original LA News Desk Content

Six years ago at an Arizona middle school, Savana Redding was forced to remove her clothes in front of two school officials ordered to search her for drugs. The employees were acting on a tip from another student.

Savana, 13 years old at the time, was in math class when the vice principal told her to come to his office. It turns out, several prescription strength ibuprofen pills had been found with another student. When asked where she got them, the student blamed Savana. The vice principal first searched Savana’s backpack. When this examination yielded no results, he sent her to a nurse’s office where the nurse and an assistant were told to “search [Savana’s] clothes.” Savana was then ordered to remove her pink t-shirt and black stretch pants. She kept her head down, fearful she would cry. Then, she was told to shake her bra and pull aside her underwear. Savana would later call it “the most humiliating experience of [her] life.”

Savana’s parents were not informed of the search by any school official. Savana’s mother learned of it when arriving to pick up Savana, and a student asked what she was going to do about Savana being strip-searched. April Redding immediately confronted the principal and the superintendant, both of whom at first denied having any knowledge of the search. Later admitting to the search, the principal told her, “You should be happy we didn’t find anything.”

No apologies were given.

The Reddings sued.

In court, the case has had several different results. A federal magistrate and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the school was within its rights to search Savana. However, the full 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the school’s actions unconstitutional. One judge wrote, "A reasonable school official, seeking to protect the students in his charge, does not subject a 13-year old girl to a traumatic search to protect her from the danger of Advil." The school appealed to the Supreme Court.

The fourth amendment in the Bill of Rights protects all citizens from “unreasonable searches and seizures.” In my opinion, searching a girl’s underwear for minor drugs off a hunch is hardly reasonable; it would seem obvious that the search was unconstitutional. First of all, the pills Savana was suspected of having were ibuprofen 400. Although prescription strength, two capsules of the common pill Advil contain the same amount of the drug. Also, the only evidence the officials had against her was the tip from another student. It would have been easy for the girl to give another name to focus attention onto someone else, or to get someone she didn’t like into trouble. The vice principal also did not take into account the effect this search would have on Savana. Middle school students, especially girls, are extremely self-conscious about their bodies. Savana, shy and insecure about her body, was deeply traumatized by the event. In fact, she didn’t even come to school for two months afterwards because she did not want to see the nurse or assistant. Essentially, an extremely insecure girl was made expose herself in a search for the equivalent of two Advil because of a hunch. Did the ends justify the means?

Savana is not the only student to have been subject to a search of this nature. 20 8th grade boys were made to strip in order to find $90 stolen from a student. A special needs student was strip searched in Watson, Michigan in a search for marijuana.

The Redding’s case will be heard by the Supreme Court on Tuesday, April 28th. Hopefully, the court will banish obscene invasions of privacy like that of Savana’s.

Editor's Note: Minor copy edits were made in this article after publication.

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Comments (7)

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  • Ethan Resnick (Co-Founder, Technology Director, Designer, Columnist), on 04/26/2009, said:

    great article tess. i had no idea about any of this. good luck in the article contest

  • Deborak Krieger, on 04/26/2009, said:

    The Redding’s sued.

    You ought to be ashamed!!! That apostrophe is erroneous.

    Great article though. :)

  • Ethan Resnick (Co-Founder, Technology Director, Designer, Columnist), on 04/26/2009, said:

    haha, you're right. w/tess' permission, we'll fix it.

  • Jim Periale, on 04/26/2009, said:

    Great reporting! While I live in Arizona and this event happened close to home, everyone living under the protections and responsibilities of our constitution should sound the alarm when gross violations, such as reported here,occur.

  • J. Periale, Cambridge, MA, on 04/26/2009, said:

    Kudos Tess for bringing this to public attention -- thanks for the wake up call.

    That adults charged with protecting and teaching our children could show such monumentally poor judgement and lack of humanity towards a child is reprehensible.

    I'll be watching for the Supreme Court ruling.

  • Hunter Owens (Co-Founder, Editor In Chief, Columnist), on 04/26/2009, said:

    The extra apostrophe has been removed. This is certainly one of the more interesting stories on LA News Desk and a very good article.

  • Pat Sweeney, on 04/30/2009, said:

    Very well written, thoughtful article, Tess. It gives me hope to have young people like you voicing their opinions. Thank goodness you are the future of this country! Keep on...never give up.

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