How far can a public school go in an anti-drug campaign without violating students' rights to privacy? That's the question heading to the U.S. Supreme Court next Tuesday, when it will hear the case of Savana Redding, who, as a 13-year-old at Safford Middle School in 2003, was strip-searched by a nurse and administrative aide after another student said she had received Ibuprofen pills from Redding.

Joan Biskupic of USA Today reports:

"I went into the nurse's office and kept following what they asked me to do," Savana, now 19, recalls of the incident six years ago that she says still leaves her shaken and humiliated. "I thought, 'What could I be in trouble for?' "
That morning, another student had been caught with prescription-strength ibuprofen and had told the assistant principal, Kerry Wilson, that she'd gotten the pills from Savana. The nurse and administrative assistant, both women, were alone with Savana in the nurse's office when they asked the girl to take off her shoes and socks, then her shirt and pants. The two women then asked Savana to pull open her bra and panties so they could see whether she was hiding any pills. None was found.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled 6-5 against the Safford school district, concluding, "At minimum, Assistant Principal Wilson [who ordered the strip search] should have conducted additional investigation to corroborate [the] 'tip' before directing Savana into the nurse's office for disrobing." The school district had portrayed itself as being on the frontlines of fighting student drug use, citing a 2006 report from the Office of National Drug Control Policy that said more than 2 million American teens abused prescription drugs the previous year, and that teens ages 12-17 abused prescription drugs more than any other except marijuana.

While the middle school's efforts to fight drug use are of course worthy, it seemingly failed to consider the traumatizing effects of being commanded to get naked - especially for teenage girls who are already sensitive about their bodies. As Carolyn Polowy, lawyer for the National Association of Social Workers (which sided with Redding in a court filing), put it, "We're sympathetic with the schools, but a strip search is sort of the capital punishment of searches. It should be rare, if at all." If a school has scant reason to put a child through that, it's an even less justifiable decision.

We'll see if the Supreme Court agrees.