Last Updated on November 1, 2023 by Michelle Ball
By Michelle Ball, Sacramento California Expulsion, Special Education, sports/CIF, College, Education and School Attorney/Lawyer for Students since 1995
Most parents will never have much drama involving their kids’ school. Occasionally, however, parents encounter things which are truly horrifying in schools, including illegal student strip searches.
What if a parent hears that a student was searched by school officials in an invasive way, searching the student’s underwear and underclothing? How far is too far in student searches?
Student Strip Searches Are Illegal At Schools In the United States
In the infamous case Safford v. Redding, (2009) the United States Supreme Court found a school strip search of an Arizona eighth grade junior high student was in violation of the student’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.
The Court in Safford, however, left some questions open, such as whether a strip search could proceed with a specific allegation of a dangerous object being in e.g. underwear.
California Prohibits Underwear and Private Part Searches
Before Safford came down for the entire country, California had already answered the underwear search question, strictly prohibiting searches by school staff of student’s private places and underwear.
California Education Code section 49050, passed in 1988, states:
No school employee shall conduct a search that involves:
(a) Conducting a body cavity search of a pupil manually or with an instrument.
(b) Removing or arranging any or all of the clothing of a pupil to permit a visual inspection of the underclothing, breast, buttocks, or genitalia of the pupil.
This means that school employees can’t lift a student’s shirt to see if they have a joint in their bra. Vice Principals can’t pull down a student’s pants to see if the student has drugs in their bottom or lift a skirt to see if a student has a weapon hidden.
There are no body cavity searches of students by school staff. Such searches are illegal and flat prohibited for school officials in California.
Illegal Searches DO Happen in Schools
Only a handful of times since 1995 have I personally met parents with stories of student searches gone wild, where a student was made to take off articles of clothing or things were moved to reveal underwear.
When these do come up, it seems the student is alone with the school predator and does not feel they can leave. After it happens, it is their word against the school staff member.
How School Scum Get Away With Improper Student Searches
Hidden school sexual predators are tricky and tend to lie very well to cover up acts against students. Predators can be very believable, while a student may be doubted.
Improper strip searches usually occur when a student is alone with the adult assaulting them. It is hard to prove what went on for any student or a parent trying to help them.
This makes it easy for school predators to get away with their wrongful conduct.
Similar to a rape or molestation victim, violated students may also not report what happened as they feel humiliated and ashamed. Or, threats may be involved, such as that the student will not be expelled if they do not tell.
For these reasons, it is highly likely not all improper searches get revealed by students.
Students May Not Be Believed Over a “Trusted” School Staff Member
There is also a bias in our society against students and pro school staff, as “trusted” adults.
As most decent people would never assault a student via an invasive search, student reports of a wrongful body search may not be believed. Parents and school staff often find it farfetched that the “nice” vice principal would ever do such a thing. They presume the student is lying to get away with something.
For example if drugs were found on a student, no one cares if later the student says they were found in their underwear. Adults presume the student is just trying to get out of punishment by making up wild stories.
Schools and parents usually believe the school staff member over the student. Predators know this, which is why isolated students are the easiest targets.
Who will believe a student who was caught with drugs? What about a student who is six years old or who may be disabled, and who said the teacher pulled his pants down to check his underwear? Are they believed? Often not, even by the student’s own parents.
Maybe the student doesn’t even know it was wrong. It is a tough situation in every regard.
Talk To Students About These Issues
Schools MAY NOT search students internally (body cavity), nor extend any search for drugs or contraband to underwear, bras, or private places. Students may not be strip searched by school officials.
Parents need to discuss student rights with kids so they know to refuse these types of searches, to immediately contact their parents, and to try to leave the situation if possible. Student phones and a call to a parent may be the best defense, if a school predator did not remove the student’s phone already.
If an illegal strip search occurs to a student, it should be addressed promptly by parents, with police and school reports filed.
Michelle Ball is a lawyer for students who assists parents with filing complaints when school officials breach student rights. Located in Sacramento, California, as a student rights attorney she can help parents in Roseville, San Francisco, Stockton, Los Angeles, Auburn, Monterey, and many other locations, with problems in the school setting.
Further reading, see also: “Students’ Fourth Amendment Rights in Schools: Strip Searches, Drug Tests, and More” by Emily Gold Waldman