12-year-old girls were allegedly strip-searched at their middle school and parents are outraged

East Middle School in Binghamton, N.Y., is disputing claims that it strip searched four 12-year-old girls suspected of carrying drugs. (Photo: Facebook/Progressive Leaders of Tomorrow)

A middle school allegedly strip searched four young girls suspected of drug possession.

According to the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin, 200 people attended the Binghamton school board meeting in New York on Tuesday to hear why the assistant principal and nurse at East Middle School allegedly forced four 12-year-olds to strip down to prove they weren’t carrying drugs.

On Jan. 15, the students made administrators suspicious by “appearing hyper and giddy during their lunch hour,” according to a letter written by principal Tim Simonds, according to the social justice organization Progressive Leaders of Tomorrow (PLOT). 

“The children were instructed to remove their clothing, and felt shamed, humiliated and traumatized by the experience,” read a statement from PLOT, according to Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin. A graphic published on PLOT’s Facebook page shows that three of the students were made to remove  shirts, pants or leggings, while administrators searched their bras and underwear, and a fourth received an in-house suspension for refusing to disrobe.

A PLOT spokesperson declined Yahoo Lifestyle’s request for comment, instead directing attention to the hashtag #believeblackgirlsBCSD

In a statement published by Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin, the district apologized for making the girls “feel traumatized.”

“Last week, a concern regarding our procedures and application of student searches was brought to the district’s attention,” read the declaration. “The concern was immediately investigated. 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.”

The statement continued: “Students are protected by the Constitution from unreasonable searches and seizures. 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. These searches involve an administrator requesting a student to empty their pockets, remove their shoes and/or remove their jackets.”

“School administrators will be gathering to review existing procedures,” read the statement. “The resulting regulations, which will ensure safety and personal integrity of all of our students, will be communicated to our families. Additionally, the district’s current Board Policy will move forward for review. We appreciate everyone’s support in ensuring a safe community.”

On Jan. 24, the district rejected the term “strip search,” according to a letter sent to Yahoo Lifestyle.

“In the incidence in question, there has been a lot of misinformation being spread through social media from third parties and misinformation that was brought up at the recent Board of Education Meeting. School officials did not conduct a strip search. When students exhibit behavior that warrants further evaluation the district has an obligation to ensure their health and wellbeing, which may include physical and medical evaluation.”

In the statement, the district says that the middle school’s administrators are “trained to monitor and evaluate students and recognize behavior that is out of character” and that when a medical evaluation is conducted, “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 statement continues: “This is not the same as a strip search. As part of the typical procedure, parents are contacted to inform them of the precautions and procedures that were taken. These on-the-spot decisions are made to ensure the student’s health and well-being remain a priority, which is why students are evaluated immediately. School officials acted in accordance with the board policy. We want to reiterate that 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 safety and well-being of our students is our highest priority.”

According to Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin, at the school board meeting, Broome-Tioga NAACP president Micah Barreiro (who did not return Yahoo Lifestyle’s request for comment) read aloud an actionable list the community expects fulfilled: terminate the nurse, assistant principal and principal of East Middle School “for poor judgment, which allegedly resulted in child trauma, apologize to the community and provide educational alternatives for the time being.”

A student whose best friend is one of the girls reportedly said in the meeting, “How am I supposed to tell her everything is going to be OK if nothing is being taken care of?”

According to the news outlet, a former Binghamton High student and district mother said, “Why are the teachers and people involved, that are employed by you guys, still able to work? 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.”

One woman, who did not return Yahoo Lifestyle’s request for comment, noted that the date of the alleged strip search of the girls, who are black, was Jan. 15, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. “That’s the day you chose to strip search four little girls,” she said in the meeting, according to Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin. “You should be ashamed of yourselves. Ashamed. Four little black girls. Shame on you. I have children in your school district. I’m not going to sugarcoat it, if that happened to my children, this meeting would be very different.”

One of the girls’ parents reportedly filed a police report. Yahoo Lifestyle could not reach a representative of the Binghamton Police Department for comment.

A spokesperson from the district’s Board of Education tells Yahoo Lifestyle in an email, “As far as we’ve been able to tell, there was no evidence of a strip search. To have the district accused of such behavior is heartbreaking. Standard practice would involve rolling up a sleeve of a jacket or sweater in order to take blood pressure.”

“There would be no possible reason for a strip search —which would, in any case, be a complete violation of school policy and practice,” she wrote. “The visit to the nurse’s office was intended to ensure student safety and health and was in no way punitive…”

According to the Associated Press, PLOT is organizing a rally Tuesday to inform students of their “right to refuse invasive and discriminatory searches being conducted by school faculty and staff.”

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