In Safford Unified School District #1 v. Redding  the Supreme Court was faced with a student who was suspected of having forbidden prescription and over the counter medications with her in the school setting. School officials searched her bag and outer clothing and asked her to remover her clothing down to her bra and underwear. At this point, the school officials asked her move her undergarments to expose her breasts and pelvic area, although she was not asked to remove the same. The Court was asked to determine if such a search was constitutional and the Court found it was not.

The Court begins by acknowledging that the standard required of school official who conduct searches is one of reasonableness that is short of probable cause. The Court found that the evidence established that the search of the student’s backpack and outer clothing was reasonable, but once the search moved past that point it no longer was. The Court was concerned with the fact that given the low level of threat even if the student had these medications and lack of evidence to show it was likely she did, the search was unreasonable and, thus, unconstitutional. While not setting a standard, the Court seems to leave open, at least in part, the option of a strip search under different circumstances involving a different level of evidence and a different threat to the school environment. It appears the Courts will have to iron out when, if ever, such a search might be reasonable.

Finally, the Court notes that several Courts have considered this issue and come to different conclusions. Thus, given the lack of clarity as to the protections afforded to the student, the Court finds that school officials may have reasonably believed they were acting in a manner consistent with protections of the Constitution and, thus, are entitled to qualified immunity for their actions. Thus, school officials who have conducted these types of searches in the past likely will have some level of immunity, but those who engaged in them in the future, given the Court’s guidance, will not.

The Court ends its term on Monday and there may be more news to come.