COLUMBUS, OH–Today, the ACLU of Ohio filed suit in U.S. District Court in Columbus on behalf of eight of the students who were illegally searched by staff at the Vern Riffe Career Technology Center on January 20, 2006. The suit names the school district, the superintendent and three staff members as defendants.
The searches occurred after two students reported missing personal items. After the thefts were reported, staff at the center took the group of teenage girls one by one and searched their pockets, purses and lockers. They were then forced to unhook and shake their bra and pull down their pants to confirm they were not hiding the items in their bras or underwear.
ACLU of Ohio Executive Director Christine Link said, “What happened to these students is a travesty. The school had no right to conduct these searches.”
Link went on, “The school had several opportunities to prevent this situation. They could have called the police to report the theft, they could have let the two young women check their vehicles to confirm they did not leave the items in them and they could have called parents to inform them of the thefts and any action they were considering. The administration did none of those things, instead choosing to humiliate and violate twenty teenagers by conducting intrusive illegal searches.”
The items missing from the two students were $60 cash, two gift cards worth $15 and $35, and a credit card. The credit card was later found in the car of the student who reported the theft.
Since the searches were conducted, several parents have expressed their outrage and called for the school administration to apologize to the young women and revise their school policies to prevent this from occurring again. The center has maintained that their actions did not conflict with school policy and that because students were not forced to disrobe entirely, the search could not be considered a “strip search.”
Gary Daniels, ACLU of Ohio Litigation Coordinator said, “Regardless of whether the searches occurred according to school policy, they remain a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protects people from unreasonable search and seizure.”
Daniels added, “These young women were humiliated, even if they were not forced to completely remove an article of clothing. No excuses will make these searches anything other than what they are—illegal.”