On December 2, 2008, a teacher at Pine Academy in Shelton discovered that $70 was taken from her pocketbook. Upon this finding, the school principal “ordered [two teachers] to bring [four male] teens… accused of stealing [the money] individually into a room to be strip-searched. The teens were reported being told to remove their shirts and pull their pants down.”[1] This was in direct contravention of publicized district policy explicitly prohibiting strip searches.[2]

After the teens sued the school district, the U.S. Supreme Court rendered its decision in the case of a thirteen-year-old girl who, following unsubstantiated claims that she was dealing drugs, was “pulled out of class, ordered to strip to her underwear [and bra] and further expose herself as school officials searched for prescription-strength ibuprofen. No drugs were found.”[3] 

Suspicision vs. Degree of Intrusion

This case, Safford Unified School District v. Redding, 557 U.S. (2009), first summarized Fourth Amendment jurisprudence relating to searches conducted by police officers and the relaxed standards applied to those conducted by teachers and school administrators. Applying these principles, the Court explained that “the content of the suspicion failed to match the degree of intrusion” because of “the categorically extreme intrusiveness of a search down to the body of an adolescent [for] non-dangerous school contraband.”[4] Justice Souter concluded in his majority opinion:

[T]he T.L.O. concern to limit a school search to reasonable scope requires the support of reasonable suspicion of danger or of resort to underwear for hiding evidence of wrongdoing before a search can reasonably make the quantum leap from outer clothes and backpacks to exposure of intimate parts. The meaning of such a search, and the degradation its subject may reasonably feel, place a search that intrusive in a category of its own demanding its own specific suspicions.[5]

After the Pine Academy incident, administration placed the principal and one of the teachers involved on administrative leave for the remainder of the school year, at which point they resigned from their positions.[6] In early August 2010, the four teens each received $27,500 as part of their settlement of the lawsuit.[7]

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

If your child is subject to a strip search at his or her school, it is imperative that you contact an experienced and knowledgeable school law practitioner to understand your rights and courses of action.

Should you have any questions regarding strip searches or any other education law matter, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C. in Westport, Connecticut by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

[1] “2 lose jobs in Ansonia strip-search incident,” by Lauren Garrison. Published February 12, 2009. Accessed October 4, 2012: http://www.nhregister.com/articles/2009/02/12/news/valley/a1-anpineacademy.txt

[2] “Supreme Court Decision Could Affect Ansonia Strip Search Case,” by Diane Orson. Published July 7, 2009. Accessed October 4, 2012: http://www.cpbn.org/article/ansonia-school-strip-search-case

[3] Id.

[4] Safford Unified School District v. Redding, 557 U.S. ___, 8-9 (2009). Accessed October 4, 2012: http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/pdf/08-479P.ZO

[5] Id. at 11.

[6] See Footnote 1.

[7] “Ex-students settle Ansonia strip search lawsuit,” by the Associated Press. Published August 12, 2010. Accessed October 4, 2012: http://www.wtnh.com/dpp/news/education/ex-students-settle-ansonia-strip-search-lawsuit