Education

Can your student be strip-searched?

If you’re a parent with a child in a Chattahoochee Valley public school, you may be wondering about local policies for strip-searching students.

The U.S. Supreme Court is preparing to hear a case involving the strip search of an eighth-grade female at an Arizona school six years ago by administrators looking for prescription-strength ibuprofen pills.

Local schools, including those in Muscogee County in Georgia and Phenix City and Russell and Lee counties in Alabama, have policies regarding student searches, but not all of them address strip searches.Muscogee County

The Muscogee County School District has a policy regarding student searches, but not on strip-searching students.

According to district policy, student searches are supposed to be conducted by school officials, with the aid of law enforcement when necessary. Searches are usually conducted using drug-sniffing dogs, with MCSD security personnel or police present, said the school district’s director of communications Valerie Fuller.

Searches are conducted only if there is reasonable cause to suspect a student may be in possession of weapons, drugs or illegal substances. Policy defines reasonable cause as school officials observing a student in possession of illegal substances, reliable witness reports suggesting a student has drugs or a student acting in an unusual or suspicious manner.

School lockers, desks and other school property, as well as student vehicles on campus, are also subject to searches.

The Muscogee district policy does not require schools to notify parents before conducting a search.

According to a statement from Georgia School Boards Association, student strip searches should be conducted only when the circumstances are compelling and there is a need to seize dangerous weapons or drugs that can’t wait for law enforcement, Fuller said. Invasion of student privacy should be avoided if possible, according to the statement. The Muscogee County School District is a member of the GSBA.

Harris County

Harris County School District policy does not specifically mention strip searches of students, but assistant superintendent Mike Ward said administrators would avoid strip-searching students at all costs.

“We wouldn’t encourage that practice at all,” he said.

The school district’s policy states that student searches should be based on reasonable suspicion and conducted by authorized school officials in a manner that ensures that students’ privacy is not invaded.

Phenix City

Phenix City Schools’ policy states that a student may be searched if it is reasonable to suspect a student may be in possession of weapons, illegal drugs, stolen property or other harmful items.

A student’s parents or guardians must be notified of the search, and the search must be conducted in private by a teacher or administrator of the same sex as the student and under the direct supervision of the principal.

At least one witness of the same sex as the student must be present throughout the search.

The principal must make a written record of the search, and the student should be given a receipt for any items confiscated during the search.

Russell County

The Russell County School District’s code of conduct states that if an intrusive search or strip search of a student is needed, the principal should contact the parents of the students involved and report suspicions to police.

Police are responsible for conducting the search, not school employees.

Lee County

Darren Douthitt, assistant superintendent of Lee County Schools, said any searches of students or student property must be based on reasonable suspicion that a student has prohibited material.

The extent of a search is determined by the age and maturity of a student and the nature of the offense.

In all cases, the search must be witnessed by another staff member.

“For the most part, we treat our young adults like they’re young adults and respect their privacy,” he said.

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