Savana Redding was not a hardened criminal serving time in a penal institution when, according to both her testimony and that of officials she experienced a humiliating search that
was methodical and humiliating, Ms. Redding said. After she had stripped to her underwear, “they asked me to pull out my bra and move it from side to side,” she said. “They made me open my legs and pull out my underwear.”
She wasn’t suspected of carrying hard drugs, either. It turned out that officials decided to strip search the 13 year old because she was potentially in possession of that most dangerous of drugs, prescription Advil.
Savana was in eighth grade, and her searcher? An overzealous principal who suspected that Redding might be using drugs, because another student had named her.
Savana Redding’s story probably should have ended with an apology and a suspension for the clearly deranged school official who thought a prison-style strip search was appropriate in a search for contraband Advil. Amazingly, though, the district still maintains that it did nothing wrong, and the case has slowly worked its way to the Supreme Court, where God knows what Antonin Scalia and the boys will cook up.
The district’s response is a stark reminder of the state of drug control policy in the United States, with laden with military metaphors and absurd justifications. In their brief to the Court, the district describes being “on the front lines of” the war to control drug abuse by students, and argues that one justification for the search was that the 13 year old Redding had been “unusually rowdy” at a dance months before.
Dealing with drugs is a complicated reality for many schools, but the idea that the answer is to treat students as if they have no rights is certainly not the answer. That approach has failed in national drug interdiction, and won’t work any more effectively in schools. Instead, students will see teachers and administrators as enemies, becoming less willing to engage in the only real solution for the drug problem—open dialogue and a sense of community.
One of the enduring themes presented to aspiring educators is that a portion of their job is to transmit important ideas about citizenship to students. How can we possibly do that when civil rights don’t exist inside the school doors?