Outraged members of a New York community are demanding answers after four 12-year-old Black girls were allegedly strip-searched at a middle school last week.
Progressive Leaders of Tomorrow, a local advocacy group, posted about the incident on its Facebook page Tuesday, saying the girls were questioned, then strip-searched by a nurse and assistant principal at East Middle School in Binghamton on Jan. 15 after officials say the girls appeared “hyper and giddy” during lunch.
According to the group, the girls’ parents were not notified before the searches were done and only learned of the alleged incident after the girls came home from school in the south-central New York state city near the Pennsylvania border.
“The children had their clothing removed and felt shamed, humiliated, and traumatized by [the] experience,” the group wrote of the incident, which it claims was triggered by suspicions the students were in possession of drugs. “While they were being searched, a nurse made disparaging comments about the eczema of one girl and the size of another’s breasts.”
The organization added that the girls, as well as their parents, believe the school’s “heinous and excessive actions” were racially motivated.
The Binghamton City School District has vehemently denied the allegations and says “misinformation” has been spread about the incident.
“School officials did not conduct a strip search,” the district said in a statement.
However, the district noted that school administrators are trained to monitor student behavior that may sometimes require “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,” it added. “This is not the same as a strip search.”
In a separate statement, the district acknowledged that what had transpired left the young students feeling “traumatized.” District officials “sincerely apologized” for the impact of the incident and said they are now working with the girls’ families to resolve the issue.
The apology didn’t stop nearly 200 community members from packing the district’s board of education meeting on Tuesday to ask why no disciplinary 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 allegedly searched.
“How am I supposed to tell her everything is going to be OK if nothing is being taken care of?” Richard asked the board members, according to the newspaper.
Roseanne Vasquez, a Binghamton High graduate and parent, voiced her frustration over the incident and said the people involved should have been suspended immediately.
“This is a serious issue,” said Vasquez, who has an 8-year-old son in the district and is now “terrified” at the prospect of sending him to East Middle. “These girls were sexually assaulted. The people involved should have been handcuffed, taken downtown and fired immediately.”
In a statement, the school district explained that a student may be searched only when an official has reasonable suspicion “that a student’s health is in danger or is in possession of a substance that may harm themselves or others.” The statement made no direct mention of strip searches, however, its policy handbook describes them as “highly intrusive and almost never justified.”
The handbook adds, “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. Police and parents will be contacted immediately.”
The district said the girls were not punished as a result of the incident and were sent back to class after being “evaluated.”
The Binghamton City School District has since promised to review its existing procedures.