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School oversteps boundaries in drug search case

Last week, the issue of drug searches in high schools — and what exactly constitutes a proper, reasonable procedure for them — was brought into the public spotlight when the date for the Supreme Court case against an Arizona high school was announced.

In 2003, Safford Unified School District, located in Safford, Ariz., conducted a strip search of a 13-year-old eighth-grade girl suspected of having prescription-strength ibuprofen, which is roughly twice as strong as the over-the-counter variety. While the strip search was performed by two female faculty members, including the school nurse, school officials never asked the girl whether she had the pills with her (she didn’t), and they had no reason to believe that she did, except for the word of a student who had already been caught with pills in her possession.

This particular case presents problems that a usual drug search does not. First, there was no attempt to get a confession out of the girl before subjecting her to the search; furthermore, there was no evidence suggesting she might be carrying the drugs except another student’s word. With this lack of evidence and immediate jump to what should have been a worst-case-scenario, last-resort procedure, the school district and its administration should be reprimanded for its decision to conduct the search.

In addition, the district had reason to believe only that she carried prescription ibuprofen, which, while admittedly stronger than the over-the-counter variety, is nowhere near hard-core drug status. For a drug that so closely resembles an over-the-counter painkiller, a strip search was unreasonable. This kind of excessive search is protected against by the fourth amendment to the U.S. Constitution — a fact that has been considered by Appeals Court judges in their opinions.

While we understand that many schools have implemented zero-tolerance drug policies that they must stand by, we believe that strip searches are unnecessary and unreasonable. For minors who are accused of carrying drugs, strip searches are excessive and violate students’ individual rights. Schools need to devise better methods for keeping drugs out of their campuses that do not involve an unnecessary violation of rights and privacy.