Four 12-year-old black girls were allegedly strip searched at a middle school in New York last week, angering community members who are asking district officials why no action has been taken.
The students were questioned and then strip searched by the nurse and an assistant principal at East Middle School in Binghamton on Jan. 15. The search came because officials suspected they were in possession of drugs, according to Progressive Leaders of Tomorrow, a local advocacy group.
The searches were done without the consent of the girls’ parents, who, according to Progressive Leaders, were made aware of the alleged incident by the girls when they got home.
“The children had their clothing removed and felt shamed, humiliated, and traumatized by [the] experience,” the group wrote on Facebook. “While they were being searched the nurse made disparaging comments about the eczema of one girl and the size of another’s breasts.”
“They, as well as their parents, believe the heinous and excessive actions implemented by the school were racially motivated,” the group added.
In a statement to BuzzFeed News, the Binghamton City School District denied the allegations, saying school officials followed district policy and did not strip search the students.
“School officials did not conduct a strip search,” the district said.
The district added that school administrators are trained to monitor student behavior and determine when that behavior requires “further evaluation.”
“When conducting 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,” the district said. “This is not the same as a strip search.”
With regard to the incident, the district said the students were not punished as a result and returned to class “after being evaluated.”
On Tuesday, nearly 200 community members packed the district’s board of education meeting to ask why no action has been taken against the employees involved, the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin reported.
Alicia Richard, an East Middle student, said her best friend was one of the girls who was searched.
“How am I supposed to tell her everything is going to be OK if nothing is being taken care of?” she asked the board, according to the newspaper.
Roseanne Vasquez, a Binghamton High graduate and parent, said she was terrified of the prospect of sending her 8-year-old son to the middle school.
“Why are the teachers and people involved, that are employed by you guys, still able to work,” Vasquez told the board, the Press & Sun-Bulletin reported. “These girls were sexually assaulted. The people involved should have been handcuffed, taken downtown and fired immediately.”
The district’s policy handbook states that students may be searched “only when the school district official has reasonable suspicion to believe the student has engaged in or is engaging in proscribed activity.”
The handbook goes on to say that strip searches, which it defines as a search that requires a student to remove all of their clothing, are “intrusive in nature and 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,” the handbook states. “Police and parents will be contacted immediately.”
In a joint statement released Friday, the girls' parents reiterated that school officials did not notify them of the searches before or after they occurred.
As a result of the incident, they said their daughters have missed several days of school "as they no longer feel safe at East Middle."
"During this time, school officials failed to communicate with us in any meaningful way, and often failed to return our calls," the statement said. "It wasn't until the community attended the school board meeting that the administration began to express an interest in helping us transition the girls back into school."
"Listening to our children recount and relive this trauma has been an experience we would not wish on any parent," the statement continued. "And we hope no other child has to experience what they have endured."