New Jersey v. T.L.O.

Hopefully it is understood by all in our communities that schools are deemed the right, and obliged to act as loco-parentis, Latin for acting in place of a parent, for all students. Administrators and teachers are all taking on this responsibility when they become employees of a school district. I believe most schools put in their utmost effort to ensure that the school is as safe as it can possibly be. I know in my field placement we have had many fire and evacuation drills along with meetings that reiterate the zero tolerance rule for drugs and alcohol. This is all in order to create a haven for learning. In the court case from 1985, New Jersey v. T.L.O., an administrator, who had the reasonable suspicion a female student possessed cigarettes, and marijuana paraphernalia, searched the young woman’s purse. T.L.O., as the juvenile is called to protect her identity, felt that this violated her Fourth Amendment right to a reasonable search and seizure. The New Jersey Supreme Court agreed that the search was a Fourth Amendment violation, however, the United States Supreme Court deemed that it was constitutional because a search by a school official does not violate the Fourth Amendment so long as the official has reasonable grounds to believe that a student possesses evidence of illegal activity or activity that would interfere with school discipline and order.

Twenty-four years later, another case comes across the table of the United States Supreme Court, Safford Unified School District v. April Redding. In this case, a female high school student was actually strip searched because it was under suspicion that she had over the counter painkillers, ibuprofen, in her purse or clothing. The student was so scarred from this strip search that she transferred schools and her mother took the case to the highest possible court. The strip search in question was eventually deemed unconstitutional in an 8-1 decision on June 25, 2009.

I truly respect and uphold the idea that as employees of a school district it is our responsibility to keep the school as safe as possible. In the case of New Jersey v. T.L.O. I agree with the Court’s decision. In order to protect the school and enforce the zero tolerance policy on drugs and alcohol, I believe searching T.L.O.’s purse was the right thing to do. I do believe, however, that the Safford Unified School District v. April Redding is a completely different story. I understand that a zero tolerance policy on drugs means that there are no gray areas, but to strip search a teenage girl, for whatever the suspicion may be, is completely inappropriate. If the administrators who performed the search deemed it so necessary, they should have called the student’s parents or guardians and had them present at the time. In this article even Justice Ginsberg gave a rare interview during the pending case empathizing with the student’s embarrassment and humiliation at the time. I do think this was taken into consideration. This particular case was heatedly debated in the months preceding the decision. Some considered it a strict violation and intimidation; others believed it would cause school administrators’ hands to be tied when dealing with searching in schools. I think the mission to uphold safety in our schools must be strictly enforced, however, when a situation goes this far, there are many decisions that could have been made to keep it from going to the Supreme Court and still do the right thing.


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