Earlier this year, four teenage students filed a lawsuit against Ansonia school officials over an alleged strip search. A recent US Supreme Court ruling on strip searches could affect the Connecticut case.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s case centered on a 13 year-old Arizona girl who was pulled out of class, ordered to strip to her underwear and further expose herself as school officials searched for prescription-strength ibuprofen. No drugs were found. In its 8-1 decision, the Court ruled that the girl’s constitutional rights were violated and that the search was excessively intrusive, given the possible threat.
In Ansonia, CT, Attorney Robert Berke represents four students who have filed a lawsuit against a principal and two teachers over an alleged strip search at Pine Academy, an alternative high school. He says when a teacher reported 70 dollars missing from her pocketbook..the school’s principal ordered a strip search, despite a district policy prohibiting such searches. Four male students, 15-17 years old were asked strip to their underwear; they say teachers saw their private parts. Berke says officials were not searching for dangerous weapons or illegal drugs. "It was an allegation that a teacher lost 70 dollars.. so its not something that would justify such an intrusive search at least based on the Supreme Court’s rationale."
Anne Littlefield is a CT attorney who represents public school districts. She says the Supreme Court decision also found that Arizona school administrators could not be held liable - because the law on strip searches was so unclear at the time. "To the extent that that pronouncement of the Supreme Court indicates that the state of law was not clear, that would help the Ansonia defendants."
William Dunlap teaches constitutional law at Quinnipiac University Law School in Hamden. He says the Supreme Court ruling cuts both ways. "The court said that you have to take into consideration the age and the sex of the student, and arguably both of those facts could weigh in favor of the Ansonia school district. On the other hand, they were looking for money. They could have handled this with a very different procedure. So I think that on balance the Supreme Court case comes down against the Ansonia school board."
The Supreme Court agreed that strip searches are allowed under certain circumstances, but in light of the recent ruling Dunlap says school districts would be wise to think very carefully before ordering a strip search.