Thursday, April 23, 2009

Judicial Oversight

My parents are educators, you may or may not be aware. I have, as a result, always had a real and obvious bias towards teachers in most political disputes. I will, on any given day, side with a teachers' union in a contractual dispute. I believe that teacher retention is the real key to community building and reforming public education. As a result, I have sometimes overlooked issues of student rights. I think, in retrospect, this has been an oversight on my part.

I don't object to hall monitors, to drug dogs sniffing lockers, to metal detectors in school entrances. I don't think public schools are necessarily the most dangerous they have ever been, as some pundits of increased school security have claimed. Regardless, there are many more guns in the world today than there were in 1960, many more drugs, and many more students. It's a numbers game.

A member of the ALCU (card carrying!) since I was 16, I have tended to be a little lax on my civil liberties agenda inside of school walls. I mean, I railed against searching cars with the best of them, but again, that's outside the exit.

Let me get to my point. In 2003, a then 13 year old Savana Redding was commanded to remove her clothes by officials at her school. They had a "hunch" that Miss Redding, pictured below, had prescription ibuprofen that she was sharing with classmates. After they could find no pills in her backpack, pockets, shoes or socks, the two intrepid investigators demanded that she pull down her bra and panties and "shake" to see if any pills would be dislodged.

Image borrowed from the NY Times - photo credit Jim Wilson

While Justice Clarence Thomas seems to think that nudity in a school setting is a hilarious aspect of the adolescent right of passage, I would go so far as to call a forced strip down inhumane and callous. Antonin Scalia, everyone's favorite anti-choice relic of the Reagan administration, displayed his usual eloquence.

"You’ve searched everywhere else. By God, the drugs must be in her underpants."

Really? How about, you have searched all the places you are allowed to search? How about, if you think that there are illegal drugs, you call the police? The point is, a hunch doesn't give you the right to make a young lady take her clothes off.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as usual a voice of reason in a He-Man Woman Haters judiciary, questioned the process of the investigation, noting “But there were no questions asked at all," on the subject of the hunch and Miss Redding's spotless record. Good call, Ruth B.

These school officials were clearly abusing authority, and if there were a real ongoing drug issue, there would have been other opportunities to catch the culprit. Opportunities that probably would not have required a humiliating scare tactic that will undermine many students' view of the fairness of school.

Because, friends, if there's one thing teachers and principals have to be in order to maintain the trust necessary for a good school, it is fair. You know what is not fair? Strip searching an honors student who may have been carrying prescription headache medicine. But then maybe I am being cavalier- whoa buddy, that aspirin alternative will mess you up.

The Court will rule, and in all likelihood, it will rule against Miss Redding. Here's my prediction (I've been watching too much ESPN lately) 6:3, Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Breyer, Alito*: Ginsburg, Stevens, Souter.

*Gag me.

No comments: