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Strip Searches in Schools Essay

The Fourth Amendment is an essential part of the United States Constitution. It grants all United States citizens the right to not have illegal searches and seizures brought against them. With this being said, the most recent debate of the Fourth Amendment has occurred in the United States Public School Systems. Many kids and adults feel that students should have the same rights under the Constitution when attending school as they do when they are out. However, many school officials believe that to keep schools safe, it is essential to bend the rules a little bit.

This paper will discuss the debate that is raging in schools, look at recent cases involving the Fourth Amendment and schools, and give my personal view on the Fourth Amendment in schools. The debate that is currently raging in public schools, is whether or not kids in public schools, can be strip searched or not. This has many parents up in arms, because they feel like this violates their children’s safety, as well as, their Fourth Amendment rights. The issue of the Fourth Amendment in schools was never really an issue, until the shooting at Columbine High School in April of 1999.

This massacre really put an emphasis on security in schools. With this being said, many schools started to gear towards random locker searches and back pack searches. They never took it to the extreme of strip searches. However, with the recent school shooting at Virginia Tech and with the most recent massacre in Aurora, Colorado, many schools have stepped up their security even more. School officials are scared of having a massacre at their school. So by being over protective, they believe they can prevent one from happening.

The debate has begun to surface and be more recognized because parents believe that strip searches are too far. When it comes to their children, most parents are very protective and do not want their children violated in any way. With this introduction of strip searches into public schools, many parents believe the schools, as well as, the school officials, have taken it too far and believe this is a direct violation of their children’s Fourth Amendment rights. However, as we have discussed in class, when a parent drops their child off at school, the school assumes parenting rights of the child for that amount of time.

This idea is known as Parens Patriae, or “taking the role of the parent”. School officials argue that this idea gives them the right to search the kids as intrusively as needed, if they believe it will help protect other students and staff. People against this, such as Dennis D. Parker, say, “The disastrous effects of overly intrusive searches in schools are only underscored by the availability of alternatives, which are more effective in creating safe environments and encouraging participation and learning by all students in schools” (Parker, 2010).

Some parents however, do not mind all of the searches. They believe that it is keeping their children safe at school and that strip searches only happen on rare occasions. Many people are not raising an uproar over back-packs or lockers being searched. They are only fighting against the strip searches. The idea that their children are being “violated” has them scared. This idea can also be attributed to the recent spike in awareness of child sex-offenders. The media coverage of child sex-offenders in schools, churches, and other places, has the public scared.

Many parents do not want their children being molested or raped by a school official. When parents hear the word “strip” they automatically think the worst. They do not want their child to become a victim of something heinous, such as sexual abuse. This debate has grown fierce. It has sparked many court cases that challenge public schools and whether or not they violate children’s Fourth Amendment rights by conducting strip searches. The most recent and well known case in the media is, Safford Unified School District No. 1 v. Redding.

This court case spread across the nation like wildfire and eventually made it to the Supreme Court for review. The facts of the case are that a young 13 year old girl named Savana Redding, was forced to strip down to her bra and underwear and pull both undergarments away from her body. The school officials forced Redding to do this in an attempt to find prescription-strength ibuprofen, which is against school rules to possess and is treated as an illegal drug. The officials strip searched Redding because another student had stated that Redding had this “drug”.

The officials did not find any drugs within her locker or back-pack and stated that they believed Redding was hiding the drugs on her person. The officials believed this constituted a strip search, because the school had a zero-tolerance policy for any type of drugs or violence, and in an effort to protect their students they had Redding searched. Many parents were outraged by what happened to Savana Redding, because they believed it could happen to their children as well. Redding along with her mother and the ACLU sued the school officials for violating her Fourth Amendment rights.

This case reached national attention and finally reached the Supreme Court. After reaching the Supreme Court, the two sides battled and Redding was the victor. According to Laura Jarrett, “In a decision written by Justice Souter,5 the majority applied the T. L. O. standard to hold that the strip search in Savana Redding’s case violated the Fourth Amendment because it was unreasonable in its scope” (Jarrett, 2010). This case however, did not set precedent. Schools are allowed to strip search children as long as it is within a reasonable scope.

This means that if a child is suspected of having a weapon of some sort, he/she may be strip searched in order to find it. However, in Savana Redding’s case, a few simple pills of ibuprofen, did not satisfy the reasonableness of a strip search, and thus violated Redding’s Fourth Amendment rights. This case has opened many people’s eyes to how much power our school officials actually wield. This puts many parents in a tough spot, because they do not want their children to be harmed or taken advantage of by school officials, but they want their children to be safe at school.

More cases will be brought to court that deal with the issue of the Fourth Amendment in schools. My reaction to all of this is one that is filled with mixed emotions. As a student in college and as someone that grew up through these changes in the school system, I have seen the first hand effects of these new zero-tolerance policies. I grew up a military kid and moved from school to school every year. I attended four high schools and each one had a different policy and a new set of rules to follow.

The first high school I attended forced us to wear uniforms, to eliminate gangs within our school and promote a “community of learning”. My first high school had metal detectors at the front doors and every kid had to walk through them. We had six school police officers that closely monitored all of the students. This measure of security was not fun to go through every day. It was very intimidating and time consuming, because there was only so many metal detectors. I do not believe these metal detectors, or police officers, helped keep our school any safer than they would have been without them.

All these devices did, was intimidate you when you walked into a so-called “learning environment”. According to Parker, “Recognition that not all disciplinary policies are fair or effective and a requirement that any policies be reasonable represent a necessary first step for students who have not fared well historically in the education system” (Parker, 2010). My first high school obviously had not recognized that. My first high school, almost seemed like a jail. We wore uniforms, walked through metal detectors, police constantly watched us in the halls.

According to Jessica R. Feierman and Riya S. Shah, “Confinement to a detention center or other juvenile institution places children outside the view of their families, friends, and the public, and subjects them to what Kenneth Wooden has called a deliberate “politics of secrecy,” hiding the conditions in juvenile institutions from the public eye” (Feierman and Shah, 2012). I believe not only was my first high school like this, but I also believe that more and more schools are trying to turn into institutions that monitor kids, instead of teach them.

Children respond to relationships, not to intimidation. Along with this, I am conflicted, because I know that there is a need to keep our children safe in school. The world has proven to be a dangerous place, filled with dangerous people. The massacres at Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora, and others have shown us that we need protection. But I do not believe we need strip searches in schools. According to Diana R. Donahoe, “Studies have found children who have been subject to a strip search can be greatly traumatized by the experience” (Donahoe, 2012).

We have enough problems with teachers having sex with their students, and even some molesting their students. By inserting this power into our schools, this will open up more lawsuits and could even lead to people losing their jobs if something was done improperly. According to Nicole L. Bracy, “Over the past several decades, public schools in the United States have been increasingly transformed into high security environments, complete with surveillance technologies, security forces, and harsh punishments” (Bracy, 2012).

We teach our kids that school is fun and a great place to learn. However, when they grow up and get to school, they realize that school is really a moderate form of prison or jail. In our madness to protect our children, we have really just imprisoned them and taken away from the learning environment. Our schools have become too powerful. With the continued addition of power to our schools, we will have no control over what they can and cannot do. The Fourth Amendment is a vital part of our Constitution and we must protect it, whether that be in everyday life or in schools.

This paper has discussed the debate that is raging in schools, looked at recent cases involving the Fourth Amendment and schools, and has given my personal view on the Fourth Amendment in schools. Without the Fourth Amendment protecting us, we are subject to illegal searches and seizures. Students deserve to be protected and not subject to strip searches in school. This issue is far from over and must be brought to the attention of the public, so we can stop the schools from gaining anymore power.


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