On April 1, 2009, a group of Albany Law students filed an amicus curiae brief with the United States Supreme Court in Safford v. Redding, a case challenging the constitutionality of strip searches by school officials in public schools. The brief was filed on behalf of the Urban Justice Center, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Advocates for Children of New York, and the National Youth Rights Association. This initiative was made possible through the guidance of Professor Ray Brescia, the leadership of Umair Khan ’09, student director, and the contributions of Rob Magee ’09, Ben Loefke ’10, Meredith Perry ’10, Matthew Rozea ’10, and Erika Winkler ’10. The students worked for over two months in preparing their argument in support of Savana Redding, the thirteen year old honors student who was strip searched by school officials based on the uncorroborated tip of a fellow student on suspicion of possessing 400mg of ibuprofen.
In their brief, the group surveyed the history of teacher-student relations and concluded that the search, viewed through either the reasonableness standard lens of the common law or under modern Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, was unconstitutional. At common law, teachers stood in loco parentis and were therefore entrusted with the authority to restrict or punish students as part of the educational mission. Those restrictions or punishments, however, must have been reasonable under the circumstances to be lawful. The group also compiled an extensive historical record, which included: teacher’s manuals and case law from the nineteenth century, and writings by the early pioneers of America’s education system.
Under modern Fourth Amendment analysis, school searches are no longer based on the in loco parentis doctrine. But, at their core, school searches still must be reasonable under the circumstances. This approach permits courts latitude by allowing them to adopt a sliding scale to determine the reasonableness of a strip search. The group contends that the common law informs the Fourth Amendment analysis and that, based on their findings, the strip search of a thirteen year old girl, predicated on the statements of another student who, herself, had contraband on her person, was unreasonable and therefore unconstitutional.