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High School Students Win Injunction Against Searches at School Events

On May 20, 2011, a Federal District Court Judge in New Mexico granted two high school students' motion for a temporary restraining order and directed school officials to stop conducting overly intrusive searches of every student's body and possessions at the entrance to school events. The Court's ruling followed the filing of a class action complaint alleging that when the two students entered their Santa Fe high school's prom last month, school officials and security guards ordered the students to spread their arms and legs, grabbed and shook their breasts and bras, required the students to raise their dresses, and felt their legs.

After searching through one of the plaintiff's purse by dumping the contents out on a table, high school staff confiscated without basis or explanation such innocuous items as a bottle of prescription medicine, a small bottle of lotion, and nail clippers. All students entering the prom were subjected to similar searches of their bodies, bags, and purses. The searches occurred in public view and in front of other students and high school staff. These types of blanket searches of students have become the custom and practice at Santa Fe school events and - until the restraining order was issued - school officials planned to conduct such searches at future events. The complaint alleges that these searches violate the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

In enjoining the searches, the Court held that at the high school's upcoming graduation and another Santa Fe high school's prom, school officials must conduct less intrusive searches, have its security personnel trained, and have the searches supervised by the New Mexico State Police. The injunction prevents school officials from searching a student's body without reasonable suspicion that is specific to the student.