Quebec Education Minister Yves Bolduc says high school staff are permitted to strip-search students, as long as it's done "in a respectful fashion."

Bolduc's comments Tuesday follow a report in the Journal de Montréal newspaper, saying that a 15-year-old female student at the Neufchâtel High School in Quebec City was strip-searched last week after school officials suspected she was selling drugs.

The girl told the newspaper that the female school principal and a female staff member took her to a room in the school and asked her to remove all her clothing, including her underwear. The female staff member held a blanket in front of the student while the principal searched her clothes.

In a news release, the De la Capitale School Board did not dispute that version of events.

The board said school officials have a responsibility to ensure a safe and healthy environment.

Citing a 2010 government policy document, the board said staff can search students' personal effects if they have reason to believe a school rule has been broken and evidence could be located in a student's locker or on the student's person.

The board goes on to cite guidelines that must be followed in such searches:

  • A screen or cover is used to protect students if they are asked to remove their clothes.
  • Only clothes are searched and not the student's body.
  • Two people must be present during the search, preferably both staff members of the same gender.
  • There must be no direct contact with the student.

Bolduc was asked about the story Tuesday at the National Assembly.

He refused to comment on the specific case, but said the practice of strip-searching students is within the rules.

"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."

The school board said that this was an exceptional case, but that staff followed proper procedures. Despite that, the board said it will review the incident to see if it can improve the procedures.

The girl told the Journal that she asked to phone her mother before the search but was told she was not permitted.

The girl's mother told the newspaper the search was "excessive" and that she's considering legal action.

Mike Cohen, a spokesman for the English Montreal School Board, said he's never heard of such a case.

"That's something that's certainly never been done at our board. If we had suspicions about drugs we would call police."