Zero tolerance = zero intelligence

Very interesting article in the Times today about a 13-year old girl who was strip-searched by school authorities looking for Ibuprofen (aka Advil/Motrin).  After suing the district (quite rightly), the case has now made it to the Supreme Court.  I sure as hell hope that the Supreme Court sees the fundamental wrongness in strip-searching a 13-year old based on the flimsiest of evidence, but I somehow doubt Scalia and Thomas will come to this opinion.  I hope I'm wrong.

What is really pathetic is the way in which the school district and their lawyers justify such extreme measures in seeking out Ibuprofen..  My favorite line on this score comes from the dissenting judge in the Appeals court:

But, Judge Hawkins concluded, “I do not think it was unreasonable for
school officials, acting in good faith, to conduct the search in an
effort to obviate a potential threat to the health and safety of their
students.”  (I'm disappointed to discover that Hawkins is a Clinton appointee).

Right, Advil, that great threat to student safety.  If it wasn't for Advil, Evan would probably be crying as I type this (Alex is crying at the moment in existential angst– Advil won't help with that).   Not to say that a strip-search would be appropriate if the girl was suspected of hiding heroin, but for ibuprofen?  Please!  Zero tolerance is just so stupid.  Can we not leave any room for judgment?  Must we consider any banned substance equally harmful.  I used to take Vitamin C to school with me when I had a cold and take it throughout the day.  Under these absurd zero tolerance policies, I was be just as guilty as if I had taken crack to school. 

And by the way, school officials should never ever strip-search their students.  Talk about a betrayal of trust.  The details of the whole episode are just disgusting (apparently all it took was the fact that one of this girl's friends had gone goth and blamed her when caught with ibuprofen).  The whole article is definitely worth a read.

And if you've got any thoughts/comments on this one, drop me an email.  (I've concluded that readers are much more willing to send me an email than to post a comment for all to see).

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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