When a high school forces a strip search on a teenage girl without allowing her to contact her mother, the situation does not look good. Quebec City’s Neufchatel High School is backed by the Quebec education minister in their strip search of a 15-year-old female student suspected of selling drugs.
The strip search of the young student was first reported in the Journal de Montréal newspaper. The teenage girl was quoted by the newspaper as saying that a female staff member and the female school principal took her into a separate room, where she was asked to completely remove her clothing — even her underwear. The teen was shielded by a female staff member holding a blanket during the strip search.
What did the young girl do to deserve this treatment? She joked with a friend about selling him marijuana via text message.
The student’s version of the events was not disputed by the De la Capitale School Board in an accompanying press release. According to the board and based on 2010 government policy published by Quebec provincial police, school staff members are allowed to search students’ personal effects with reasonable cause — if a school rule has been violated and if evidence may be found in a locker or on a student’s person, for example.
The board had a few general guidelines for how strip searches should be handled: Students must be protected with a screen or cover when asked to remove their clothing; staff can only search clothes and not the student’s body; two staff members must be present at each search, preferably of the same gender as the student; staff members must not have direct contact with the student during the strip search.
Is your blood boiling yet? As a former high school student of just a few decades ago, I can only imagine how humiliated and scared this young girl must have been — especially when she wasn’t allowed to call her mother before the strip search began. As a parent of eventual teenagers, I would be livid if either of my sons came home with a story like this, even with “reasonable cause” to indicate illegal activity.
While Yves Bolduc, Quebec education minister, did not provide comment on this specific strip search case, he did endorse the practice of strip-searching at school during Tuesday’s National Assembly. Bolduc said, “There are reasons why staff may have to search students, but what’s important is that they respect the law and the framework and that it’s done in a respectful fashion.”
Very few people agree with Bolduc’s “A-OK strip-searching” point of view. As Fo Niemi of the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations explained to Global News, this situation treads in dangerous waters and can quickly become a civil rights issue, particularly in a racially diverse school. The young student’s mother called the search “excessive” and may press charges. Other concerned parents thought the strip search was “unconscionable” and “nothing less than sexual assault.”
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen schools act a fool at the expense of a student. Stories like the male PE teacher who used force to drag a high school girl into the pool, the teacher who disciplined a student with autism using hot sauce and the special ed student kept in a cage come to mind. While there are plenty of quality schools out there that enrich students, the few schools that drop the ball make it harder for parents to trust.
As parents and school administrators, it’s our job to protect the minors in our care at all costs. There are so many better ways to handle possible illegal activity on school campus, starting by calling the police. Let’s be real: There was nothing “respectful” about this strip search.