BUCYRUS, OH- The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio was victorious in federal court last week in a case involving the strip search of five middle school students by Bucyrus City School employees. The case settled after school officials agreed to change their policy regarding student searches and compensate the children for the illegal strip searches.
ACLU of Ohio Staff Counsel Carrie Davis said, “This case should serve as an example to other school districts that young people have rights that must be protected. School officials may not strip search students. If a situation rises to the level that a strip search may be needed, officials should immediately contact a law enforcement officer.”
“Searches of school children must be reasonable and proportional to the concern that prompted the search. Curiosity over what a student may have in her backpack or pockets without evidence of wrongdoing is not sufficient to initiate a search. In addition, parents should be contacted and consulted whenever possible,” Davis added.
The case stemmed from an April 17, 2008 search at Bucyrus Middle School. Prior to the start of the school day, a group of students congregated in an alley across the street from the school. Some of the students in the alley were smoking cigarettes. The school principal came upon the students, some of whom ran onto the school grounds and mixed in with others. The principal pulled a group of students inside, including some who had been in the alley and some who had not.
Staff members brought each of the male students into an office, made them turn out their pockets, patted them down and made them to drop their pants so they could check for tobacco products. A staff member also ran his finger around the waistbands inside the boys’ underwear. Staff then took a female student into an office and forced her to lift her shirt up and patted her down. No cigarettes were found. The female student also reported being strip searched again at an after school event several months later.
Davis concluded, “Ohio law is clear that young people cannot be strip searched by school officials. All schools would do well to reexamine their policies to be sure they are in line with the law. School boards should also address these issues with school personnel to ensure they take reasonable and legal actions in these circumstances.”