Posted by: schooleducator | April 20, 2009

The Dignity of Savana Redding

Students have no privacy in schools. Educators are obligated to create safe learning environments for all children. The Savana Redding strip-search case underscores the importance of schools to make it abundantly clear to students and their families that safety comes before privacy in schools. Ironically, this case comes 10 years to the month after the Columbine Massacre, when the world of schools in America changed forever. It is neither fair nor prudent to hamstring school administrators in their charge to keep school safe from violence, drugs, and alcohol.

However, schools need to be very careful and cautious in how they handle information they receive via word of mouth. The game of telephone is not the right way for school administrators to haul students into their office to have them strip down into their panties and bra, which is what happened to Savana Redding. The school listened to allegations by students against Savana Redding, that she had hosted a party where alcohol was served and that she had distributed a prescription-strength ibuprofen tablet to a student. Where the school erred, and this is inexcusable, is that it failed to take the time to adequately research and investigate the allegations. Instead, they rushed to judgment, and violated the dignity of Savana Redding. The first rule of school administration is that there are multiple sides to any issue, and each situation demands due diligence to hear all viewpoints, weigh the voice of each source, and then arrive at a fair course of action.

Schools cannot forget that they are dealing with young people, not fully grown adults. Savana did not need her Miranda rights read to her in the Nurse’s office, where she was strip-searched, but she did have the right to have her parents present. The first thing the school should have done is call her parents, to let them know of their concerns, and to learn more about what was going on with Savana. Had the school taken this critical first step, the parents would have felt more at ease, in knowing that the school pays attention, does not let things go, and seeks to work with parents as partners, to help mold and educate children. The parents might not have agreed with the school, and they might have even disregarded the school’s concerns, but at the very least, this initial meeting would have indicated attention to process. Parents want to know from schools, and they have a right to know, that their child is safe, respected, and treated with decency when they are at school. If the school cannot guarantee this, then trust breaks down, lawsuits appear, and national newspapers inflame what could have been a private, discreet matter, handled with dignity, care, and respect for the student.

Adam Wolf of the American Civil Liberties Union captured the crux of the problem perfectly when he stated at the hearing yesterday, “there is a certain ick factor” to the way the school handled Savana Redding. The court posed a hypothetical scenario “that there is a very dangerous drug, meth, that’s going to be distributed and consumed that afternoon in school.” This served as the focal point of the debate among the Justices. Justice Souter is not wrong when he states, as reported in the Washington Post: “My thought process is, I would rather have the kid embarrassed by a strip search, if we can’t find anything short of that, than to have some other kids dead because the stuff is distributed at lunchtime and things go awry.” But, that is not the heart of the matter. No one will dispute that school administrators need to keep school safe. However, the manner, tone, and approach they use to ensure this safety is vital. In the Savana Redding case, the school failed the child and violated her dignity in its attempt to safeguard the community.


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