Privacy, security both carry weight in debate over searches
From open-mouth shock and outrage to full-fledged support, reactions from parents and students across Europe concerning Friday’s strip-search of nearly 40 Heidelberg High School students covered the spectrum of opinions.
Some parents interviewed were not comfortable with authorities strip-searching their children without their knowledge.
Some students said that, given the situation, they would flat-out refuse to be strip-searched and described strip-searches as “an invasion of privacy.” Given that three Heidelberg High students were found in possession of suspected drugs, the authorities were justified in performing the searches, other high schoolers said.
Jenna Strong, a seventh-grader at Lakenheath Middle School, England, said she thinks police should be authorized to go into schools and conduct strip-searches to find drugs.
Would she be OK with it even if she were the one being strip-searched?
“As long as the drugs are gone, I would be fine with it,” she said.
A few parents in Naples, Italy, when told of the issue, shrieked: “Wow!” Their initial response soon was followed by the same adverse reaction to the idea of their children being strip-searched.
“It would bother me a great deal if they didn’t have my consent to strip-search my children,” said Tim Eckert, the emergency management officer at the Operations Department of Naval Support Activity Naples.
That said, he added that he appreciates the balance officials have in maintaining security and safety of the students and “making sure drugs and weapons and things of that nature are kept out of school.”
“However, there should be some kind of parent notification … and strip-searching should be a last resort.”
Cindi Unger said she’s not looking for advance warning of raids or searches but, at minimum, would expect to be notified the day of the search so parents can be present.
“And even then, I’m not saying I’d consent to a strip-search,” said Unger, a mother to sons ages 11 and 13. “If they touched my children without notification, I would be very upset. These are children. Even if they are in possession of drugs, there are other actions that can be taken.”
Max Hillman, 16, a sophomore at Kaiserslautern American High School, Germany, said drug searches are common at his school. Police conduct such searches about every other month at the school, but he said they never strip-searched him or anyone else.
“I wouldn’t do it,” he said, if police told him to strip down. “I’d be mad. I’d call my mom.”
Cris Penson, 15, a freshman at Kaiserslautern, said school or law enforcement officials are justified if they have a good reason.
“If it was for drugs, I think it’s OK,” he said.
Some students were shocked that police could perform strip-searches legally.
“They can just go up to people and accuse them of it and strip-search them?” said Heather Comoglio, 15, a freshman at Kaiserslautern. “I think it’s wrong.”
Madeline Neyland said she’d be “in shock” if she found out her 11th- or eighth-grade children were strip-searched at school.
“I am surprised,” Neyland said. “I can see a search, but not a strip-search.”
Neyland, whose husband is a chaplain at Aviano, also wondered about the adverse affects on children subjected to such a procedure.
“Something like that could damage the children for life,” she said. “My kids don’t even like the doctor looking at them.”
Students expect school to be “a safe place,” said Rebeka Melvin, a Baumholder American High School senior in Germany. Knowing there’s a constant possibility of “being stripped down to your underwear” diminishes that sense of security, Melvin said.
“If [students] have to get permission slips to get on the Internet at school, then [authorities] should have to get permission to do strip-searches,” she said.
Stripes reporters Terry Boyd, Sandra Jontz, Sean Kimmons, Scott Schonauer and Geoffrey Ziezulewicz contributed to this story.