At a police officer’s suggestion, Lanier Middle School vice-principal and school nurse force twenty-two female sixth graders in Texas to submit to a search of their underwear. Nurse checks their bras and panties for missing cash. No need for a parental permission slip to do that to your daughter!
Policeman in question is Lanier’s school resource officer. You have to ask, resource for what – how to model your school after a juvenile detention center? If your department forces female detainees to disrobe for strip searches, why not bring similar methods into a middle school? You do what you have to do.
Interestingly, the school resource officer, and apparently school officials, too, regarded the missing cash as contraband. Contraband in a school setting generally means drugs. We have all heard about locker searches to find so-called contraband, but when did body searches to find missing money become the next step up? It makes sense, doesn’t it? If people have something to hide, check their bodies.
Students are not prisoners. What difference does their legal status make, if the law requires your attendance at school, and people in authority at the institution treat you like a prisoner?
One might want to observe, as Robby Soave does, that students are not prisoners. What difference does their legal status make, if the law requires your attendance at school, and people in authority at the institution treat you like a prisoner?
Permission slip required
Nothing shows the contrast between police procedure and school procedure better than a strip search of twenty-two eleven- and twelve-year-old girls, to find two twenties and a ten deemed contraband. In a school procedural, everything requires a permission slip. You need a hall pass to prove you have permission to be outside a classroom. You need a note from the doctor to prove you can miss gym. And you need your parent’s signature on a form before you can go on a field trip, or do anything else outside of a classroom. Those forms promise you won’t sue the school district if your child gets hurt, too.
Police don’t ask permission. Yes, they’ll ask if they can search your car, but that’s a routine request in a situation that is not urgent. If they have any reason to think you might have a weapon, or drugs, they won’t ask. They’ll conduct the search. If someone says later the search was illegal, they know their supervisor will back them up. They will check your body cavities if they have to, or want to.
In this case, law enforcement – and the school nurse – can argue the search was not actually a strip search. That method implies coerced removal of all clothing, which did not happen in this case. The nurse can say she was discreet. Without a doubt, however, searching people’s underwear invades privacy, no matter what care you take when you do it. Moreover, officials had no reason to suspect any of the girls in the line-up. The money goes missing during the girls’ choir field trip, the police officer says “sometimes girls like to hide things in their bras and panties,” and next thing you know the nurse has them in the bathroom to see if one of them stole it.
We hear of little youngsters hauled off to police headquarters, to be booked because they accidentally packed something on the school’s prohibited list. We see video of a young teenage girl physically attacked by a police officer because she won’t put her cell phone away.
Nominal procedures say school resource officers do not have direct access to students for purposes of discipline. Schools supposedly have the principal, vice-principal, and faculty to handle those matters. Amazingly, though, school officials deferentially turn school discipline over to the police. We hear of little youngsters hauled off to police headquarters, to be booked because they accidentally packed something on the school’s prohibited list. We see video of a young teenage girl physically attacked by a police officer because she won’t put her cell phone away. These are cases where the police officer does have direct access to students, because school officials have given it to them.
For school officials, discipline is a thankless task that just causes them difficulty with parents. When you turn discipline over to school resource officers, you can flip-flap your hands and say to yourself, “That’s that.” Police not only have authority, they have procedures: the whole package relieves school officials of unpleasantness, including hard decisions about how to handle each case.
Police procedures have no place in schools, unless you regard students as potential criminals.
Criminalization of everything
So now we come back to strip searches for sixth graders, who probably did not even know what a strip search was until the nurse called them into her office. Now we can see what happens when police procedures invade an environment that used to operate under educational protocols, not those of a detention center. In a school environment, students ask permission from school officials, and school officials ask permission from parents. The chain generally works. Officials do not do anything to students, without permission from parents first. The school covers itself that way.
The exception is the police procedural. You bring in a school resource officer, and anything in the police toolkit goes. If a strip search seems to be the right tool to turn up a ten and two twenties, go with it. The vice-principal and the school nurse go with it, too. They search the underwear of twenty-two students under their care without asking the girls’ parents for permission.
That shows you what happens when a normally cautious school bureacracy lets law enforcement procedures in the door. The police develop their methods to deal with criminals, suspected criminals, or individuals they have in their custody for whatever reason. School procedures have never required police procedures, yet police now have control of school discipline. Police procedures have no place in schools, unless you regard students as potential criminals.
Nothing forces school principals or vice-principals to let this happen. For that matter, nothing forces school nurses to conduct strip searches. She could have said to the vice-principal, “Are you out of your fucking mind?”
Nothing forces school principals or vice-principals to let this happen. For that matter, nothing forces school nurses to conduct strip searches. She could have said to the vice-principal, “Are you out of your fucking mind?” The vice-principal might have listened to her. Certainly the school board would have listened to her. She should have called the police chief and said, “Do you know what these people in my school say I should do?” If the police chief does not say, “Good God,” that official should find another job.
In this whole sad chain, it takes only one person to say “No, I’m not going to do this.” One person can stop the whole train. We are not at the point where secret police take you out back to shoot you if you refuse to go along, but school districts fire people for far less. If this train keeps rolling, we may wonder why we did not try to stop it when we could.
The girls and their parents filed a federal law suit against the school district.
Lanier’s principal wrote a memo afterwards. In the memo, he says that the next time the vice-principal wants to do a strip search, he should let the principal know beforehand!
School officials treated the whole scenario as oh-so-routine. They knew the girls would tell their parents what happened at school, yet that did not give the officials pause at all.
School Strip-Searches 22 Sixth-Grade Girls Because a Cop Thought They Were Hiding $50 in Their Underwear. Despite the best efforts of a nurse who “loosened their bras” and “checked around the waistband of their panties,” no money was found.