A Middle Schooler Strip Searched in Front of Classmates? This Needs to Stop
By NICK CHILES
The family of a middle school student in Georgia has filed a lawsuit against the school district because administrators, suspecting that the 7th grader was in possession of marijuana, forced the youngster to strip down to his underwear in front of classmates. The boy had no drugs—but he was wearing Superman underwear. In the year since the traumatic incident occurred, the boy has acquired a new nickname throughout the school. You guessed it—Superman. His mother said his interest and commitment to school has suffered a severe blow.
This reminds me of a post I wrote a few weeks ago linking the poor school performance of black and Latino youngsters to the increasing presence of police officers as security guards in schools across the country. The cops are much more likely to arrest the kids for doing stuff that kids do, like shooting spitballs or cursing a teacher—things that might have resulted in a suspension in years past, before police officers roamed the halls. In Chicago, an advocacy group studying Chicago arrest data found that 20 percent of all juvenile arrests took place on school grounds.
What happens when you treat children like they are criminals? A good portion of them eventually become criminals. This is called a self-fulfilling prophecy—and it is one of the most fundamental factors affecting the performance of young people, in school and out. Do we expect our children to learn, to be disciplined, to behave? We spend so much time talking about the power of expectations when it comes to our young people, yet I keep coming across incidents in schools across the country where the educators are treating the students in their care like common criminals.
In the case in Georgia’s Clayton County, school officials heard another student claim that the boy in question was carrying marijuana. Officials searched his bookbag and found nothing. But they didn’t stop there. They ordered him to remove his clothes. He begged to be taken into the bathroom, but they forced him to strip in front of several classmates.
The boy’s attorney, Gerry Weber, said the U.S. Supreme Court ruled quite clearly in 2009 that school officials are prohibited from performing even a partial strip search of a student, even if they have probable cause. Weber said this case brought him back a decade to a case he was involved in that resulted in a federal appeals court ruling that a mass strip search of Clayton County students was unconstitutional because it violated their Fourth Amendment rights, which protect against unreasonable search and seizure.
“This is like deja vu,” said Weber. “It is simply beyond belief that students are still being stripped naked in the Clayton County schools.”
It is also beyond belief that we are still fighting this battle, struggling with school administrators who look at our children and too often see “future criminal.” Here’s hoping that this Georgia family and their boy are able to get some retribution from the Georgia courts—maybe win a big enough settlement that school officials around the country sit up and take notice. When you treat students like criminals, you have turned the schools into a training ground for the nation’s prisons.