Qualified Immunity of School Officials: Safford Unified School District #1 v. Redding

Qualified Immunity of School Officials – Safford v Redding

In Safford Unified School Dist. #1, et al. v. Redding, the United States Supreme Court recently held unconstitutional the strip search of a public middle school student for legal drugs which were prohibited by school rules. The Court also held school officials, specifically the assistant principal who ordered the search, immune from personal liability for his illegal action. While the strip search grabbed public attention, the real importance of and the reason the justices granted review is the secondary holding of qualified immunity for the school personnel involved in the search. The majority’s rationale for finding immunity was its contention that the law of student searches was sufficiently ambiguous as to give the assistant principal inadequate notice regarding Savana’s situation. But Justice Souter’s argument on this score rings hollow, an intellectually dishonest, result-oriented analysis that fails to square with either the standards for qualified immunity or the state of search and seizure law, which both Justice Stevens and Justice Ginsberg forcefully state has long been clear, though obviously must be applied by administrators to infinite fact patterns.

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