Update (April 30, 2019): A lawsuit was filed on behalf of four Black and Latina girls who were strip-searched by a school nurse at a New York middle school.
The suit was filed by The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) and Morrison & Foerster LLP, according to a press release published on Monday. The court documents went into detail about how the girls were strip-searched and forced to take sobriety tests.
During the searches, school nurse Mary Ellen Eggleston made comments about the girls’ bodies and one's “flabby” breasts. She told another she had “unusually large” breasts for her age and scolded another for her untreated eczema.
The girls were next told why they were searched, and one even asked if her mother was contacted. The lawsuit also accuses the school of not doing enough to ensure the girls had a smooth transition back into the classroom. The girls were scarred by the experience and refused to return to East Middle. Instead of being sent to West Middle, the only other non-alternative school in the district, they were shipped to Columbus School, an alternative school. The lawsuit argues the girls received “insufficient assignments” during their time at the school.
“The girls felt isolated while at Columbus because they had to be stationary all day and could not interact with other students outside their classroom,” it read. “They were assigned to one classroom for the entire day, including the lunch period. Lunch was brought to the classroom on a cart.”
LDF attorney Cara McClellan attributed the girls’ treatment to racial biases against Black and Latina girls.
“All students deserve to learn in a safe and supportive environment,” she said. "Yet racial bias disrupted the education and wellbeing of four Black and Latina, middle-school students, whose normal, childlike behavior was used by school officials to justify illegal strip searches simply due to the color of their skin.”
The suit also claimed the girls had suffered mentally since the ordeal.
"All of the parents have observed symptoms of anxiety, depression, and emotional distress in their daughters since the January 15 events, and agree that their daughters will need some form of therapy to address the harm that resulted from such traumatic experiences during a critical period in their development as adolescents,” the papers read.
The lawsuit is requesting counseling for the girls, removal of any negative marks on the records and a chance for them to catch up with their school work. The legal team also asked for permanent placement at West Middle School and unspecified damages.
The Binghamton City School District has not responded to the lawsuit, according to Press Connect. Back in January, the school district denied any strip searches occurred.
"When conducting a medical evaluation, it may require the removal of bulky outside clothing to expose an arm so that vitals like blood pressure and pulse can be assessed. This is not the same as a strip search," said the board of education in a statement. "School officials acted in accordance with the board policy."
Original: A New York state school district is facing a storm of criticism from parents and community leaders for strip searching Black middle school girls.
The controversy stemmed from the alleged strip searches of four 12-year-old girls attending East Middle School.
According to The Associated Press, approximately 200 concerned parents and community members packed the Binghamton school board meeting on Tuesday. Students at the center of the controversy were reportedly forced to undress on Monday during the MLK holiday because school officials suspected the girls were in possession of drugs.
A school nurse and assistant principal claimed the girls were acting abnormally. The girls were questioned and described as being "hyper and giddy during their lunch hour," according to the school.
Despite the backlash, the Binghamton School District (BSD) stands by the impromptu strip search. In a statement released to the media on Wednesday, BSD restated the district-wide policy on strip searches. The district did not mention if suspicions were proven true.
It has yet to be confirmed if the girls were in possession of any substance.
“A student may, under current law and policy, be searched in a school building by an administrator when the administrator reasonably suspects that a student’s health is in danger or is in possession of a substance that may harm themselves or others," a statement from the district read. "These searches involve an administrator requesting a student to empty their pockets, remove their shoes and/or remove their jackets.”
One of the girls' parents who was in attendance at the meeting asked why the district didn't return her calls following the incident. According to the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin, that parent has filed a police report and demanded to see an incident report.
The district, however, sent her a letter a day after the alleged strip search. The concerned mother met with board member Korin Kirk and the district superintendent.
Local community leaders from the NAACP have spearheaded a movement to call for an end of the invasive searches. Broome-Tioga NAACP President Mica Barreiro spoke to the board with a list of demands in hand. He called for the termination of the nurse, assistant principal and principal plus a public apology and alternate placement at West Middle School until the situation is defused.
"Broome-Tioga NAACP is appalled that they even have to ask for instruction," Barreiro said.
Binghamton School District officials are planning to review the procedure and investigate those involved in the incident.
The Progressive Leaders of Tomorrow (PLOT), an advocacy group based in Binghamton whose Facebook post about the incident helped to bring attention to the allegations, said this isn't the first issue students of color have had problems with the local school district.
Thursday, PLOT posted a link on its Facebook page to a Press Connects report that details the story of Joshua Cyle, a 17-year-old student who was restrained on school property for using the wrong doors. Clyde says during the incident he was slammed violently to the ground, restrained so tightly he couldn't breathe and called a "n****r."
Blavity has reached out to the district and middle school for further comment on the strip searches but has not yet received a response.
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