Iowa School Accused of Strip Searching Teenage Girls in Search of Stolen Money

125px-flag_of_iowasvgSchool officials in at Atlantic High School (“Home of the Trojans & Trojanns“) in Des Moines, Iowa are facing questions of why five teenage girls were forced to take off their clothing for a search after a classmate reported $100 missing from her purse. No money was found. The Supreme Court just ruled in June 2009 that strip searches were unconstitutional in Safford Unified School District v. Redding. As in the Iowa search for money, no drugs were found in the Arizona middle school search.

During the search, a female counselor and a classmate watched the girls as they were forced to strip and lift up their underwear. One girl was completely naked during the process.

Dan Crozier, the interim superintendent of the Atlantic school district, insisted that it was not a real strip search and that “[a]ccording to our board policy, it was an allowable search.”

The incident occurred when gym teacher Tim Duff reported that a girl reported $100 missing to Assistant Principal Paul Croghan. The search was then ordered.

It is not clear where the teachers are drawing the line between a strip search and ordering kids to take off most or all of their clothes. One student said that she asked if she had to disrobe and was reportedly told yes. One child refused to take off her underwear in front of everyone and was allowed to go around the corner to do so. Another asked if she could just lift up her bra and was told that that was not sufficient. One child was searched twice.

The families are suing and this will cost the school a lot more than $100 before it is over.

One of the most important elements in the case is the lack of danger to the children or the school in this case. This was part of the balancing test articulated by Justice Souter in Safford:

Savana’s subjective expectation of privacy against such a search is inherent in her account of it as embarrassing, frightening, and humiliating. The reasonableness of her expectation (required by the Fourth Amendment standard) is indicated by the consistent experiences of other young people similarly searched, whose adolescent vulnerability intensifies the patent intrusiveness of the exposure. See Brief for National Association of Social Workers et al. as Amici Curiae 6–14; Hyman & Perone, The Other Side of School Violence: Educator Policies and Practices that may Contribute to Student Misbehavior, 36 J. School Psychology 7, 13 (1998) (strip search can “result in serious emotional damage”). The common reaction of these adolescents simply registers the obviously different meaning of a search exposing the body from the experience of nakedness or near undress in other school circumstances. Changing for gym is getting ready for play; exposing for a search is responding to an accusation reserved for suspected wrongdoers and fairly understood as so degrading that a number of communities have decided that strip searches in schools are never reasonable and havebanned them no matter what the facts maybe, see, e.g., New York City Dept. of Education, Reg. No. A–432, p. 2 (2005), online at (“Under no circumstances shall a strip-search of a student beconducted”).

The indignity of the search does not, of course, outlaw it, but it does implicate the rule of reasonableness as stated in T. L. O., that “the search as actually conducted [be] reasonably related in scope to the circumstances which justified the interference in the first place.” 469 U. S., at 341 (internal quotation marks omitted). The scope will be permissible, that is, when it is “not excessively intrusive in light of the age and sex of the student and the nature of the infraction.” Id., at 342.

Here, the content of the suspicion failed to match the degree of intrusion. Wilson knew beforehand that the pills were prescription-strength ibuprofen and over-the-counter naproxen, common pain relievers equivalent to two Advil, or one Aleve.4 He must have been aware of the nature and limited threat of the specific drugs he was searching for, and while just about anything can be taken in quantities that will do real harm, Wilson had no reason to suspect that large amounts of the drugs were being passed around, or that individual students were receiving great numbers of pills.

Strip searches are unlawful in Iowa schools and it is hard to imagine that ordering kids to strip down to their underwear would not qualify as a strip search.

Town folklore indicates that money has played a central role in its history. When the town was formed by Franklin H. Whitney, B.F. Allen, John P. Cook, and others there was supposedly a debate over the name. Since they thought that they were halfway between the Pacific and the Atlantic, they agreed to flip a coin on calling their town Pacific, Iowa or Atlantic, Iowa. Atlantic won. What is not recorded is what happened to the coin or whether Whitney and Allen strip searched Cook when it went missing.

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26 thoughts on “Iowa School Accused of Strip Searching Teenage Girls in Search of Stolen Money”

  1. Malisha, The thing is, the kids have NO rights to parent notification until after the search and NO right to an attorney. ONLY if the police show up are they notified of the rights that they don’t know how to claim.

    For an in-school incident, they have NO rights except a search in private by someone of the same gender. I have to believe that the parents haven’t read that part of the book. I saw the section on school policies and was surprised that it was so long. So I looked and found that they approve of strip searches. There’s probably more objectionable stuff. I’ll see my nephew again Tuesday and will copy that section and see what other goodies are there.

  2. EEK, kids need to know to contact their lawyers just to get through school? Are we all nuts, is our society so nuts already that we can’t see what’s wrong with this? A kid needs to know to lawyer up if some other kid makes an allegation against them in school?

    Oh I am sooooo glad my kid decided not to have any children. Ever hear a Jewish mother say something like that? I AM GLAD! It is not safe to bring kids into this insanity; it is not safe to even send them to school. OMG. We’re gone; we’re beyond saving; we’re nuts; damn…

  3. I just read my nephew’s book, more than 1/2″ thick, that includes the middle school policies. These policies are probably also the policies in the high school but I haven’t confirmed it. One of their policies is strip searches. Students have no rights whatever. No attorney, no parent, nothing.

    Someone makes a complaint. If that person is reliable (further defined as someone who hasn’t previously made a false complaint), an administrator may decide that a strip search is warranted.

    Prior to the search, a call will be made to a parent, but the search will happen whether contact with the parent is made or not. The parent will get a letter after the event explaining what happened.

    An employee of the school, administrator or teacher, of the same gender will conduct the search in private.

    The school attorney is mentioned.

    If the police show up, they must have a warrant or they don’t get to see the child. In this case, the child has Miranda rights. Now, my nephew is a pretty bright kid, but this is middle school. I really don’t see him telling a police officer that he wants to call a lawyer (he doesn’t know one), or a parent (they both work). He would probably answer any questions they ask to the best of his ability. Or he might lie.

    I’ll see my nephew next week and I’ll get a copy of the pages that describe their policies.

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