Wednesday, July 24, 2013
In her office, the principal searched D.M.'s outer clothing and backpack, then had him remove his shirt, unbutton his pants, remove his belt, remove his shoes, and partially disrobe. The principal's action is reminiscent of the strip search of Savana Redding that the Supreme Court found unreasonable in Safford Unified School Dist. No. 1 v. Redding, 557 U.S. 364 (2009). Just as in Redding, the principal did not find any contraband on D.M. during the search. The principal did not contact D.M.'s parents prior to conducting the search.
While the Supreme Court has ruled that high school students have a lessened expectation of privacy, school searches still must be reasonable under Fourth Amendment standards. The Court defined reasonable suspicion in Redding as "a moderate chance of finding evidence of wrongdoing.” The Court applies a two step analysis to gauge the reasonableness of a school search: first, was the search justified at its inception; and second, was the search conducted in a way that was reasonably related to the search's objective. New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325 (1985). On the facts presented in D.M.'s case, the principal will face a considerable challenge in justifiying her actions or showing that the search's instrusiveness was reasonable under the circumstances.