Law & Courts

Supreme Court Rules in Strip-Search, English-Learner Cases

By Erik W. Robelen & Mary Ann Zehr — June 25, 2009 1 min read
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The U.S. Supreme Court this morning ruled that public school officials violated the Fourth Amendment rights of a 13-year-old girl when she was strip-searched at school, but said the official who ordered the search was entitled to “qualified immunity” from liability.

In a separate case being closely watched in education circles, the court also ruled in favor of Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne, who had challenged a U.S. District Court decision that Arizona must provide adequate funding for English-language learners in the state.

"[T]he content of the suspicion failed to match the degree of intrusion,” wrote Justice David H. Souter in an opinion joined by five other justices.

The case has attracted national media attention, as well as friend-of-the-court briefs from national education groups, civil-liberties advocates, and the Obama administration.

At issue in Safford Unified School District v. Redding (Case No. 08-479) is the search of 8th grader Savana Redding by school personnel at an Arizona middle school. The 2003 action came amid suspicion that the honors student possessed prescription-strength ibuprofen tablets, a violation of the school’s anti-drug policy. No such pills were found on Ms. Redding, who stripped down to her undergarments, which she pulled away from her body so that two female personnel, including the school nurse, could inspect her.

In the Horne v. Flores et. al case, the Supreme Court decided 5-4 that the lower courts didn’t fairly consider “changed circumstances” that had taken place since parents in the Nogales, Ariz., school district filed the original lawsuit in federal court in 1982, implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act being one of them. The court remanded the case to the lower courts. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote the majority opinion.

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A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.