The Morning Call reports that the Palisades School Board has adopted a policy that would allow strip searches of students when other students and staff are believed to be in danger. “It would have to be something extreme. … If there’s imminent danger, we would probably do what is necessary,” said Director Stephen Kunkel, who is on the Board’s policy review committee.
Superintendent Bridget O’Connell concurred, saying, “I couldn’t even fathom a situation where it would be needed.” District spokeswoman Donna Holmes said the policy was adopted on the recommendation of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association. She said Palisades has been reviewing all of its policies for updating. The district’s previous search policy was mostly limited to locker searches, she said.
One parent, Stephen Willey, called the policy extreme, saying it gives officials too much freedom to possibly conduct unneeded and invasive searches. “Do you forcibly make them strip?” Willey said.
Student strip searches have been the subject of numerous lawsuits over the years, especially in districts that used them to catch students suspected of using or dealing drugs. Locally, in 1999, a federal lawsuit involving a teenage girl who was allegedly strip-searched by an East Penn School District nurse was settled for $12,000.
Before that settlement, U.S. District Judge Franklin Van Antwerpen ruled a jury could hear the girl’s claim that the search had violated her constitutional right to be free from an unlawful search. In 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court laid down the ground rules for strip searches, ruling they could not be conducted unless there is a clear threat of danger to other students.
Source: The Morning Call, 2/7/13, By Charles Malinchak; Daniel Patrick Sheehan, Contributor
[Editor's Note: Sean Fields, Senior Associate Counsel with the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, has kindly offered clarifying information regarding the school board policy mentioned in this article. Rather than specifically recommending that school officials adopt a strip search policy, PSBA added language to a policy guide on the subject of student searches that would actually make it less likely that school officials would perform a strip search. The language was added to the policy guide in 2009 to reflect the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding in Safford Unified Sch. Dist. v. Redding, 557 U.S. 364 (2009), the U.S. Supreme Court decision referred to in The Morning Call article above.
In June 2009, Legal Clips summarized the Court's 8-1 decision in Redding, which held that a strip search of an Arizona student violated her Fourth Amendment right to freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, but concluded that school officials were entitled to qualified immunity from her lawsuit because her rights were not clearly established at the time. (At this time, the Legal Clips summary is available to COSA members only.)
In December 2012, Legal Clips summarized an article in The Fayette Observer, which reported that the parents of a student had filed suit in federal court against the Sampson County Board of Education, alleging that their then-fifth grade son was strip-searched in June 2012 by now-former Union Elementary School Assistant Principal Teresa Holmes, who was looking for $20 reported missing in the school’s cafeteria. The complaint raised four claims, including violation of federal and state rights protecting people from “unreasonable searches and seizures,” battery, and invasion of privacy.]