Four Black middle school girls, accused of being “happy and giddy” during lunch, were allegedly strip searched at the school because they were suspected of drug possession.
The search is said to have taken place at East Middle School in Binghamton, N.Y. The school is a largely lower-income school with a population of about 600 students. Although white students lead the school demographic with a total number of 41 percent, Black students make up 31 percent of total students.
The girls are all 12 years old. The strip search was supposedly facilitated by a school nurse and the assistant principal. The school has two assistant principals Michelle Raleigh and Ronald Smith. There was no mention of which assistant principal participated in the search.
Only three of the four girls allowed the administrator and nurse to look inside of their underwear, after complying with their orders to remove most of their clothing. The students, who rightfully refused to undress, were deemed “non-compliant” and received an in-school suspension.
The board has yet to acknowledge if any drugs were found on the girls.
On page 84 of the Binghamton School District’s Code of Conduct for Students, it specifically states:
“Students are protected by the Constitution from unreasonable searches and seizures. A student may be searched and contraband/prohibited items seized on school grounds or in a school building by an authorized School District official only when the School District official has reasonable suspicion to believe the student has engaged in or is engaging in proscribed activity which is in violation of the law and/or the rules of the school (i.e., the District Code of Conduct). The reasonableness of any search involves a twofold inquiry.”
Further down in the section on bodily search procedures, it states the steps that should occur, if a strip search must be conducted:
“A strip search is a search that requires a student to remove any or all of his/her clothing, other than an outer coat or jacket. Strip searches are intrusive in nature and are almost never justified. If school officials have highly credible evidence that such a search would prevent danger or yield evidence, such a search may be conducted under exigent circumstances. In the alternative, if school authorities believe there is an emergency situation that could threaten the safety of others, the student shall, to the extent practicable, be isolated and secured. Police and parents will be contacted immediately.”
The full document can be read here.
It does not seem that the children’s parents nor the police were notified, which is the standard order of procedure for a strip search.
Needless to say, parents in the district were livid. A group of 200 people from the community converged onto the school board in protest of the search.
Broome-Tioga NAACP President Mica Barreiro addressed the board with accountability measures he urged them to take.
Barreiro took it a step further and asked, “Has anyone (on the staff) been suspended”
Board President Brian Whalen replied, “That is a personnel matter.”
Parents with children in Binghamton schools took turns speaking to board members.
“If we don’t have teachers who want to be held accountable, they should leave,” said Kymel Yard.
“Why are the teachers and people involved, that are employed by you guys, still able to work” said Roseanne Vasquez, a Binghamton High graduate. “They should have been suspended immediately. This is a serious issue. These girls were sexually assaulted. The people involved should have been handcuffed, taken downtown and fired immediately.”
The school district also issued a statement on late Wednesday, which did not include the entire policy. In fact, they said they had no knowledge of the strip search until parents made them aware.
“Unfortunately, our students shared that these actions have had the unintended consequences of making the students feel traumatized. We sincerely apologize for the impact this has had and are working with these families to support their children’s success,” according to the district’s statement. “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 mother of one of the students did file a police report regarding the search of her child, who is a minor. She complained that the school never sent her an incident report detailing what happened. She had reached out to the school and the board multiple times via telephone, on the day that the alleged strip search, but administrators failed to respond.
The district, however, sent her a letter, a day later.
On Thursday, the school board issued another statement claiming that “officials acted in accordance with” established policy.
According to the statement, which essentially calls the traumatized students liars: “No students were strip searched, nor were they punished as a result of the incident in question and they were allowed to return to class after being evaluated.”
The board’s statement said that during a student medical evaluation, there may be a need to remove “bulky outside clothing to expose an arm so that vitals like blood pressure and pulse can be assessed” and “this is not the same as a strip search.”
There is no mention of the clearly defined protocol for strip searches in Binghamton schools. Was it omitted on purpose