Parents in upstate New York are calling for the resignation of two school employees amid claims that the employees told four 12-year-old girls they had to be strip-searched because they were suspected of using drugs.
The students’ parents have accused the assistant principal and school nurse at the East Middle School in Binghamton of traumatizing their daughters during the alleged strip search on Jan. 15. The school employees allegedly searched the girls because they appeared “hyper and giddy” and were suspected of being under the influence of drugs, according to Progressive Leaders of Tomorrow, a local advocacy group that is representing the parents.
The Binghamton School District has denied that they strip-searched the students and said that the staff members were conducting a “medical evaluation” on the students which “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,” the school district said in a statement to BuzzFeed News.
The Progressive Leaders of Tomorrow refuted the school’s description of the incident. They claim that three of the students were forced to strip down to their bras, with at least one student stripping down to her bra and underwear.
“The children were instructed to remove their clothing, and felt shamed, humiliated and traumatized by the experience,” the group said in a statement.
School officials did not find any drugs on the students, according to the group.
In a joint letter published Friday, the parents, who identified themselves Anais and Ibelyh Disla, Zulayka Mckinstry and Chanderlia Silva, said their daughters missed “several days” of school because “they no longer feel safe at East Middle.” They also accused school officials of ignoring their phone calls.
“Listening to our children recount and relive this trauma has been an experience we would not wish on any parent,” the parents said in the letter. “And we hope no other child has to experience what they endured.”
About 200 people from the community, including the president of a local NAACP chapter, attended the Binghamton school board meeting on Tuesday to ask school officials why no disciplinary action was taken against the accused employees, according to the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin.
“Why are the teachers and people involved, that are employed by you guys, still able to work,” Roseanne Vasquez, a graduate of Binghamton High, said during the meeting. “They should have been suspended immediately. These girls were sexually assaulted. The people involved should have been handcuffed, taken downtown and fired immediately.”
The parents of the four students said that the past week has been “unexpectedly stressful and traumatic to our girls.”
In their statement on Friday, the parents maintained that their daughters were given “sobriety tests and observations, and told to remove their clothing to be searched for drugs and other illegal substances.”
All of the girls agreed to the tests and observations, according to the parents, but one student refused to “remove her clothing for the search” and was placed in an in-school suspension.
“We, as parents, did not consent to these searches,” the parents wrote. “We, as parents, were not notified by the school before or after these searches occurred.”
In a statement on Wednesday, the school said it “immediately investigated” the incident after it was brought to their attention last week. School officials apologized for the “impact” the incident had on the students, but also pointed out that school administrators are legally allowed to perform a search on a student.
“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 district’s statement read, according to the Sun-Bulletin.
“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.”
The Progressive Leaders of Tomorrow planned a rally for Tuesday at East Middle School to protest the school district’s “invasive and discriminatory searches.”