Sunday, July 5, 2009

At least students have right to remain clothed

"You have no right to remain silent. You have no right against self-incrimination. No attorney shall be appointed for you. Don't like it? Who asked you?"

Such are the court-tested Miranda warnings for the lab animals otherwise known as students.

But at least one civil right now is affixed for students— the right not to be strip-searched by your school.

Fortunately, only one Supreme Court justice, Clarence Thomas, thinks the practice is OK after an 8-1 ruling in favor of an Arizona middle-schooler who'd been strip-searched on suspicions that she had ibuprofen on her body.

Yes, ibuprofen. Also known as Advil. Oh, after shaking out her panties and her bra, school officials didn't find any.

Thomas, the lone dissenter, said the ruling opened the door to the prospect that students now would hide drugs in their underwear. And bazookas, no doubt.

He wrote that, "preservation of order, discipline, and safety in public schools is simply not the domain of the Constitution."


As aghast at that statement as you and I might be, realize that Justice Thomas, like Rush Limbaugh and, oh, Kim Il Sung, have bigger constituencies than rational sorts might imagine.

Considering the overreaches so common in today's "zero tolerance" climate, it's a wonder that a girl standing naked before school authority can count on any support whatsoever on our highest court.

Then again, that support is the essence of civil liberties. Of course, listen to what many so-called conservatives say about the subject, and understand that civil liberties are just about the most dangerous thing going.

Did I say lab animals? In many ways the school is the laboratory for those who, though they claim to be conservative (a strain of thought with supposed roots in freedom and libertarianism), are really frothy authoritarians. Generally they'd be OK with a police state, so long as the police don't take their guns.

How blithely they nod when such proposals come down the pike as student uniforms, random drug tests, or turning schools into Shawshank-style lock-ups.

Students? They have no rights. And civil rights are a pernicious influence in society anyway. Right, Justice Thomas?

Hence, you have the suspension of three Westchester (N.Y.) high school girls for saying "vagina" in a presentation of — you won't believe — the Vagina Chronicles.

You have the New York student suspended for holding up a "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" poster at a non-school event. He lost his appeal to this Supreme Court.

Incidents like these, and the gamut of overkill under the guise of "zero tolerance," led the New York Civil Liberties Union to push for something called the Student Safety Act. The words evoke images of razor wire and drug-sniffing dogs. Actually it's just the opposite, a response to "schools' reliance on over-policing and overly harsh disciplinary policies." It's a proposal with an audacious premise: that students do have rights.

Advocates point out that too many schools have begun abdicating discretion to zero-tolerance policies and campus police, often resulting in a "suspend now, talk later" mind-set.

I am well aware of the opposite condition, chronic troublemakers endangering others and disrupting class without sanction and without relief for those who want to learn.

Neither situation is acceptable. But the most unacceptable proposition is that we would require individuals to show up at a place — school — where the freedoms enumerated in the Bill of Rights are only things that you learn about, things that apply to your parents but not you.

John Young writes for the Waco Tribune-Herald. E-mail:

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