| SAN FRANCISCO
SAN FRANCISCO An Arizona school violated the
constitutional rights of a 13-year-old student by conducting a
strip search for ibuprofen, a divided U.S. appeals court ruled
Suspecting that a student had violated a policy against
prescription or over-the-counter drugs without permission,
public school officials in Safford, Arizona, ordered a search
of Savana Redding. A school nurse had her remove her clothes,
including her bra, and shake her underwear to see if Redding
was hiding anything.
The 2003 search, prompted by a tip from another girl, did
not find ibuprofen, which is found in common medications like
Advil and Motrin to treat pain like cramps and headaches.
Higher doses require a prescription.
Previous court decisions ruled the school did not violate
the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment rights against
unreasonable searches and seizures because officials have a
legitimate interest in protecting students from prescription
The 6-5 ruling by a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals on Friday overturned an earlier decision, setting out
its reasoning in an extensive 75-page ruling with many details
on the complications of eighth grade life.
"Directing a 13-year-old girl to remove her clothes,
partially revealing her breasts and pelvic area, for allegedly
possessing ibuprofen, an infraction that poses an imminent
danger to no one, and which could be handled by keeping her in
the principal's office until a parent arrived or simply sending
her home, was excessively intrusive," Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw
wrote for the majority.
The majority found flaws in the school's logic that a tip
from another student justified the action.
"The self-serving statement of a cornered teenager facing
significant punishment does not meet the heavy burden necessary
to justify a search accurately described by the 7th Circuit as
'demeaning, dehumanizing, undignified, humiliating, terrifying,
"And all this to find prescription-strength ibuprofen
pills," Wardlaw continued later. "No legal decision cited to
us, or that we could find, permitted a strip search to discover
substances regularly available over the counter at any
convenience store throughout the United States."
In a dissenting opinion, Judge Michael Daly Hawkins wrote,
"We should resist using our independent judgment to determine
what infractions are so harmful as to justify significantly
"Seemingly innocuous items can, in the hands of creative
adolescents, present serious threats," he wrote. "Admittedly,
ibuprofen is one of the mildest drugs children could choose to
abuse. But that does not mean it is never harmful."