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Friday, June 26, 2009

Once Again, Thank God I Don't Have Kids.

Playing in the background: The air conditioner. It's ridiculously hot here.

[Warning: Graphic content. No, really.]

What with all the celebrity deaths and gubernatorial foolings-around, I somehow totally missed the Supreme Court ruling that school officials, by and large, can't be going around yanking the clothes off of thirteen-year-old girls and peering into their underwear.

Maybe I missed it because it was so obvious. In an environment where even Little League coaches have to undergo background checks to make sure they're not sex offenders, it seems a little silly that anybody would think hauling an underage girl out of class and making her disrobe in the principal's office (and, according to reports, "shaking out her bra and pulling her underwear forward to expose her pelvic area") was a great idea. The school officials claimed they were looking for "contraband," which in this case was a pain reliever that anybody of any age (yes, even thirteen) can buy at the corner drug store. Under this school district's "no tolerance" policy, though, the school felt it was justified in searching the student because it had "reasonable suspicion" (translated as, "Susie says you have drugs") that the student was packing the stuff.

The school officials behaved with unbelievable stupidity in this matter. There are plenty of options for dealing with suspected contraband besides stripping a thirteen-year-old girl in front of adult school officials. If they had reason to believe the teen had illegal drugs (and frankly, "Susie says you have drugs" doesn't seem like a reason to me) they could have called the police. They could have asked a parent to come down to the school and let the parent perform the search (in private). They could have simply asked her to leave campus for the day and not allowed her back until a parental discussion had taken place. The school nurse and the secretary were lucky they weren't charged with sexual assault. When I lived in California, a principal was fired for checking girls at the door of a high school dance to make sure they had on underwear. I forget what the rationale was now, but honestly, what would you say if your underage daughter came home and said, "Principal Barnes made me lift my skirt so she could look at my ass"? I would at least think Principal Barnes might have a screw loose. If I were the hysterical helicopter type, I would wonder if Principal Barnes might be one of those evil predatory lesbians, so popular in porno films yet so nonexistent everywhere else on the planet, who have a thing for thirteen-year-old girls.

Everybody but Justice Thomas agreed with this statement:

The exact label for this final step in the intrusion is not important, though strip search is a fair way to speak of it. [The secretary and nurse] directed Savana to remove her clothes down to her underwear, and then "pull out" her bra and the elastic band on her underpants. Although [they] stated that they did not see anything when Savana followed their instructions, we would not define strip search and its Fourth Amendment consequences in a way that would guarantee litigation about who was looking and how much was seen.The very fact of Savana’s pulling her underwear away from her body in the presence of the two officials who were able to see her necessarily exposed her breasts and pelvic area to some degree, and both subjective and reasonable societal expectations of personal privacy support the treatment of such a search as categorically distinct, requiring distinct elements of justification on the part of school authorities for going beyond a search of outer clothing and belongings.

Justice Thomas, on the other hand -- I swear, this guy is going to become the Jesse Helms of the Supremes -- stated that

---(t)he reasonable suspicion that Redding possessed the pills for distribution purposes did not dissipate simply because the search of her backpack turned up nothing. It was eminently reasonable to conclude that the backpack was empty because Redding was secreting the pills in a place she thought no one would look. See Ross, supra, at 820 ("Contraband goods rarely are strewn" about in plain view; "by their very nature such goods must be withheld from public view"). Redding would not have been the first person to conceal pills in her undergarments...

Pardon me while I get pornographic, but I guess under this logic it would also follow that they could have insisted that the student remove her underwear, bend way way over, grab a butt cheek with each hand, spread them wide and jump up and down so officials could be sure she didn't have a bottle of Advil tucked into her anus or vagina. Heck, they were probably justified in grabbing a glove and going prospecting. After all, she wouldn't be the first person to use bodily orifices to smuggle contraband, and what's a little sexual assault when we're talking about student safety?

When I was in high school, I was accused of pimping (!) by a "good friend" who didn't want to go on a band trip. She told her parents that I was setting up a meeting with her ex-boyfriend, of whom she claimed to be afraid, at the location of the band trip. The parents called the principal, the principal called my parents, and I, who had no idea what was going on, got hauled out of class to explain myself. Luckily, my dad has a longstanding battle with school officials of all stripes and raised holy old hell. Good thing they didn't think I had her ex-boyfriend tucked in my underwear or-- okay, I think this blogpost has gotten pornographic enough.

Honest to God, don't parents have enough to worry about without wondering if school officials are sexually abusing their kids? In between lessons on "stranger danger", do we now have to explain to our toddlers that "If Principal Barnes wants to look in your diaper to see if you have no-nos, you should tell me right away"? Cripes. If I'd been that girl's mother I'd have gone down to the school with a chain saw or something and, I dunno, carved a great big topiary phallus in one of the bushes next to the main entrance. God knew what She was doing when She made me sterile. I'm just sayin'.

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