Recently, in a New York City high school, the dean of girls thought she saw a “marijuana pipe” in the pocketbook of a 15 year old girl. The girl was taken to a nearby classroom and forced to strip naked while the dean searched her for pot. No pot was found, but the girl may be emotionally scarred for life by this degrading experience.
This strip search underscores three important facts. First, it shows how this country’s marijuana laws can be abused by government officials and used as an excuse for depriving people of their fundamental rights. Second, it shows how the drug laws are unevenly enforced so that minorities are often treated worse than whites for the same offense – the 15 year old girl in New York was black, the dean who searched her was white, and white students in the high school had never been forced to strip when they were suspected of possessing pot. Lastly, this outrageous episode shows that students and other young people in our society are being treated like second-class citizens.
In the case of strip searches of adults, the police can only order a strip search after a suspect has been arrested on legally provable probable cause that a crime has been committed. A student, however, can be strip searched at any time, since the Supreme Court has never ruled on whether students are protected by the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures. Besides strip searches, school officials routinely go through students’ lockers without warrants and without even having “probable cause” that any crime has been committed.
School officials defend their actions on the grounds that the schools have the obligation to maintain order and to look after the welfare of the students in the place of the student’s parents. It’s ironic that although schools are supposed to prepare students to become good citizens by giving them an understanding and respect for democratic values, our school officials have adopted the fascist view that people can’t look after themselves and must be ruled by those who know what’s best for them.
Students in our society, by and large, are better educated and more aware of what’s going on than most of the voters in this country. If students are told, in effect, that they must be protected from themselves, that order and discipline are more important than freedom and individual dignity, how does our society expect students to come out of the schools with any kind of understanding or respect for democratic government? And if our society is convinced that democracy can’t work in the schools, then can a police state in America be far behind? Any time the rights of any group of people, whether it’s blacks, marijuana smokers, or students, can be taken away or ignored, then the rights of everybody are in danger.
It’s time we stopped treating students as prisoners and started treating them like citizens whose rights are guaranteed by the United States Constitution. If the Supreme Court will not stand up for the rights of students, then maybe what we need is an Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution for students.
Charlotte Faye Greenberg
Editor and Publisher