The Ottawa Citizen, December 8, 1998
Grade 9 boys forced to undergo strip search--'They told me to bend over but I just crouched. It was frightening'
By Pat Bell
On Nov. 26, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that teachers and principals have the right to search students and their lockers for drugs and weapons.
It didn't say school staff could strip search students suspected of stealing money.
Now police are investigating just such a search, carried out last Friday on the boys in a Grade 9 physical education class at Kingsville High School in southwestern Ontario.
One student, Matt Klassen, 15, said after a classmate reported $90 missing from his gym bag, vice-principal John MacDonald and gym teacher Dan Bondy "made us go into the phys ed office one at a time and we had to take our clothes off in front of them."
He said he was told to remove his underwear as well. "I was embarrassed. They told me to bend over but I just crouched. It was kind of frightening."
Matt said all the boys in the class -- about 25 -- were upset by the incident and yesterday hundreds of students left the school at lunch time and stayed out for more than an hour in protest.
"The whole town is in an uproar," said Ed Hardy, whose son Jay, 14, was the first to be searched. "I've talked to the teachers and the Board of Education because I don't agree with their actions."
He said Jay at first refused to take off his underwear calling the order a violation of his rights. "But he was told he'd be suspended from school for a month and he's already had a bit of trouble with school so he decided the best thing was to comply."
Although he called the strip search extreme and inappropriate, Mr. Hardy said he was grateful that it proved Jay had nothing to do with the theft of any money.
"My boy was originally accused and after they'd checked him and his locker and his bag and his boots, it made it easier for him to go back to school today. The other kids had been blaming him and kids can be very mean.
"But he's still upset at what happpened and he had to go down and make a statement about the search at the police station."
Kingsville Police Service received a complaint Friday that several students had been searched by school staff after a gym class. They confirmed the searches followed a complaint of a theft of $90 from a gym bag and, in a press release yesterday, said they were holding $80 that had been recovered. Police officers have taken several statements but they said there are many more witnesses to be interviewed.
The Essex County crown attorney's office will be consulted when the investigation is finished, police said.
The Supreme Court, in its recent ruling about student searches, noted that the growing prevalence of drugs and weapons makes it necessary for school staff to be allowed to search students without obtaining a warrant, in order to keep schools safe.
The court sided with Halifax vice-principal Michael Cadue instead of a 13-year-old student who contended his rights were violated three years ago at a school dance during a search that uncovered a cellophane bag of marijuana in his sock.
The Supreme Court ruled that principals and teachers are not subject to the same strict rules as police when conducting searches.
"Students have privacy rights, but those rights are diminished if educators have reasonable grounds to believe their charges are breaking rules that threaten the safety of other students," the court concluded.
"The possession of illicit drugs and dangerous weapons in the schools has increased to the extent that they challenge the ability of school officials to fulfill their responsibility to maintain a safe and orderly environment," wrote Justice Peter Cory.
"They must be able to act quickly and effectively to ensure the safety of students and to prevent serious violations of school rules."
But the court cautioned that educators must use caution and not assume to apply the same rules for a banned pack of gum that would apply for a gun.