If This Had Happened Anywhere But School, They'd All Be In Jail

Based on a tip from a snitch facing disciplinary action, school officials in Safford Arizona ordered thirteen year old Savanna Redding to undergo a full strip search, underwear and all, for suspected possession of, get this, ibuprofen.

None was found.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in a six-to-five en banc decision, reversed(!) an earlier panel of three to hold the search a possible violation of Ms. Redding's Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches. Redding v. Safford Unified School District #1:

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," Justice 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, unpleasant [and] embarrassing'.

"And all this to find prescription-strength ibuprofen pills

This being the Ninth Circuit, and this being America, it would not surprise me at all if the Supreme Court were to grant certiorari and reverse this holding. While the Circuits might divide on a case as revoltingly silly as this one, if there is a general rule in American jurisprudence on the rights of children suspected of drug possession in school, it is that they have none.

After all, as the dissent points out:

Seemingly innocuous items can, in the hands of creative adolescents, present serious threats. Admittedly, ibuprofen is one of the mildest drugs children could choose to abuse. But that does not mean it is never harmful.

Indeed. Anecdotal data, as reported by millions of mothers around the world, suggests that children just like Savana Redding can drown in as little as a teaspoon full of water.

But as the government lost this time, and as the story above does not name the names of the parties responsible for this farce, we must go to the actual opinion to find them, name them, and shame them.

Safford Middle School Assistant Principal Kerry Wilson, Administrative Assistant Helen Romero, and School Nurse Peggy Schwallier, you stripped a thirteen year old girl searching for ibuprofen, a drug barely more powerful than aspirin which you can buy in any grocery store.

What the hell is wrong with you?

Update: January 16, 2009  WHOA!  A prophet is without honor only on his own blog.  I see that at least 4 Justices of the Supreme Court have discerned the injustice of holding school administrators responsible for the sort of conduct that got Lynndie England a dishonorable discharge.  Big news from the War on Ibuprofen!

Update 2: June 25, 2009  The Supreme Court has spoken, finding the search did violate Ms. Redding's 4th Amendment rights.  Unfortunately, the Court also held that the law was insufficiently clear at the time to allow Redding's assailants to know their conduct was illegal.  No justice for Savana Redding, but at least they can't do it to your kids.

Last 5 posts by Patrick Non-White


  1. says

    Anecdotal data, as reported by millions of mothers around the world, suggests that children just like Savana Redding can drown in as little as a teaspoon full of water.

    For that very reason, many such mothers decline to send their children to boarding school.

  2. says

    You beat me to this one, Patrick.

    Allow me to be the first to say "but it was prescription-strength ibuprofen! Think of the children!"

    Scandalous. Outrageous. And all-too-common. Stupid drug war.

  3. Sarkus says

    As Dave points out, this was about prescription strength drugs, not OTC ones. So what we're talking about are prescription drugs, which kids do abuse. I'm not sure what, if anything, prescription strength ibuprofen can be abused for, but I do see the school having a strict policy regarding prescription drugs for legitimate reasons. It's probably a blanket policy, rather than drug specific.

    Not that any of that justifies a strip search, of course.

  4. Patrick says

    All you can do with prescription strength ibuprofen (also known as Motrin) is cause yourself internal cramps and a bloody stomach Sarkus. PAR-TAY!

  5. says

    Apparently they had a blanket ban on *all* drugs: illicit, prescription, or over the counter, unless you get explicit permission. It's hard to understand why the school needs to control students' access to pain relief or nasal decongestion, but that does seem like something the school administrators I remember would deem necessary.

    I presume the rationale was people hiding ecstasy as regular medicine, so just ban it all… and thus here we seem to have a genuine slippery slope.

  6. Brian says

    Stupidity abounds. A year or so ago, everyone in my house was sick, and I was sent to the grocery store to procure cough medicine. I had to get cough medicine for my wife, and then I wasn't sure if she wanted Tylenol or Motrin for the kids, so I got both. Or rather I tried to get both. I was stopped at the checkout counter as apparently I could also have been running a meth lab out of my house. I was allowed to choose no more than TWO bottles of cough medicine. I chose poorly.

  7. Dave says

    Sarkus, my point isn't that it's prescription strength. My point is you can get the exact same thing with 4 ibuprofen pills you can buy without a prescription. It's completely silly. It's even more silly in light of what J.W. Hammer later posted.

    And there is no illicit benefit from using ibuprofen, prescription strength or otherwise.

    Dramamine, on the other hand….

  8. mike_lee says

    "Pssstt . . . hey kid come over here . . . keep this on the down-low but I'll tell you the recipe for prescription strength ibuprofen. Take two regular ibuprofen which are 200 MG each. Now . . . here's where it gets tricky. . . down them at the same time and just like that -[snaps fingers]- 400MG of Ibuprofen induced happiness – damn, you hardcore baby.


  1. […] You may recall later last year that I blogged about the 9th Circuit upholding as reasonable, a search in which a 13 year old girl was stripped, exposing her breasts and genital areas, while searching her for ibuprofen based solely on a tip from a teenager that was in trouble for something else.  I lamented that it was the Drug WarTM gone out of control, and that I would have simply decked the school officials involved had I been that child's father.  Well, in a miraculous bit of common sense by the 9th Circuit, the case was appealed before the entire court, and reversed: […]