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Name: Redding v. Safford Unified School District, et al.
Case #: 05-15759
Court: US Court of Appeals
District 9 Cir
Opinion Date: 07/11/2008

The Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures extends to searches of students in the public school setting. A search of a student by a public school official is reasonable only if it is justified at its inception and reasonably related in scope to the circumstances justifying the search. (New Jersey v. T.L.O. (1985) 469 U.S. 325.) Whether the search is justified at its inception turns on whether there are reasonable grounds to suspect that it will turn up evidence of a law violation. Further, students who provide information implicating other students in prohibited activity are tantamount to “informants,” insofar as determining whether the tip can give rise to a reasonable search. Here, school officials were informed by a male middle-school student that he had become ill after taking a pill a classmate gave him. The next day, the male student gave a white pill (prescription strength ibuprofen) to the school authority and claimed it was given to him by female student M. M. was questioned and claimed S., a 13-year-old female honor student, gave her some pills. When she was questioned, M. was found to be in possession of pills similar to the suspect white pill. M. also had a planner that she said S. had loaned her. S. was questioned and agreed that she had loaned the planner to M., but denied any connection to the pills. S.’s only link to the incident was the loaned planner and the culpable M.’s uncorroborated tip. Nevertheless, at the behest of the school authority, the assistant principal, S. was searched by a female teacher in a way that exposed S.’s breasts and pelvic area to the teacher and to the nurse witnessing the search. Although the district court ruled that the search did not violate S.’s Fourth Amendment rights, and that the assistant principal had qualified immunity, the en banc court on review found that S.’s rights were violated as the highly invasive strip search was not justified as its inception–the assistant principal had no reasonable grounds to believe she was in possession of ibuprofen. The search is permissible only if the measures adopted are reasonably related to the objectives and not excessively intrusive, with consideration given to the student’s age and gender and the nature of the suspected infraction. Additionally, the court concluded that the search was impermissible in its scope. A search that is the equivalent of a strip search on a 13-year-old female student under these circumstances was impermissible in its scope.