Court relaunches high school student’s strip search trial

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) – A federal appeals court has revived a lawsuit filed by an Alabama student who said she was strip searched at age 14 by school officials who suspected her of smoking marijuana.

On Friday, the 11th United States Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a district court’s decision that said Lamar County school officials had qualified immunity. The latest decision allows the civil suit brought by the student and his mother to continue against the school system and those responsible.

The lawsuit alleges the eighth-grader at Sulligent High School was strip searched twice in 2017 after a teacher smelled marijuana burning in the classroom and administrators found marijuana stalks, seeds and rolling papers in the girl’s backpack.

No drugs were found on the student after the searches, and a teacher later found the remains of a marijuana cigarette under her desk the next day, according to the appeals court ruling. The student was identified as TR in court records due to her age.

The appeals court said a district judge erred in ruling in favor of the school board. The ruling said school officials had no particular reason to believe the student was hiding marijuana in her underwear and that they had subjected her to “the categorically extreme intrusiveness of a search” of his body.

“Not only did they not have a reasonable suspicion to strip search TR the first time, school officials clearly had no reason to strip search TR a second time after the first search turned up nothing. given,” the appeal decision said.

Martha K. Merrill