Press Release -- NYCLU to School District: Mass Student Search Illegal, Humiliating & Invasive

CONTACT: Jennifer Carnig, 212.607.3363 / [email protected]

 

NYCLU to School District: Mass Student Search Illegal, Humiliating & Invasive

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

May 28, 2009 – The New York Civil Liberties Union has called on the Red Creek Central School District in upstate New York to publicly apologize to high school students subjected to illegal, humiliating and invasive searches by state police and school officials.

In a letter to Superintendent David Sholes, the NYCLU also urged the district to take steps to prevent invasive searches and protect students’ rights. Students subjected to the April 9 searches were passengers on a school bus parked outside of Red Creek High School. Every student was pulled off the bus and searched.

“This was one of the most humiliating moments of my life,” said 18-year-old graduating senior Stephanie Schultz, who is attending college in the fall. “My school taught me about the Constitution and about my rights, and then pushed them both aside and made me feel like my rights didn’t matter.”

Schultz and at least 17 other students on a Williamson BOCES school bus were removed from the bus in mixed gender pairs and ordered to the Red Creek High School principal’s office by a uniformed state trooper.  In the principal’s office, the students, male and female, were subjected to invasive searches in full view of each other.

Schultz was searched by a female librarian in front of three males – her principal, a police officer and a classmate. Though she asked that she be searched in a room without men, her request was denied. She cried as she was forced to roll down her waistband and expose part of her underwear and buttocks.

“The principal walked out because I was crying so much,” Schultz said. “I knew it wasn’t right what was happening, but there was nothing I could to. I felt helpless and humiliated.”

Nothing was found on the culinary arts student. In fact, the school district did not have suspicion that any of the students searched were engaged in any illegal activity at that time.

“Students must not be stripped of their rights and their dignity at the schoolhouse door,” NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said. “While drug abuse is a serious matter, it can be addressed without public humiliation. These students are now afraid of their teachers, they are afraid of the police, and they are afraid of what their classmates think of them. They deserve a public apology to ease these fears and restore their reputations.”

The male students were searched by Principal Noel Patterson as a state trooper watched. Female students were searched just a few feet away by a female school employee. Each student was ordered to remove their jacket, shoes and socks, and empty their pockets. Some students were “patted down,” others were asked to lift shirts and undershirts, and one student was asked to remove an outer pair of pants.

“This was humiliating, embarrassing, frustrating and a waste of my time,” said 18-year-old graduating senior and honor roll student Stephanie Forsythe. “Everyone saw me escorted by the police and thought I was arrested. I shouldn’t have had to go through that and I don’t want this to happen to my little siblings.”

According to the district, each student was subjected to a “waistband search,” which in some cases entailed turning down the waistband to reveal parts of their underwear, buttocks and pelvic area, in view of male and female school staff and the male state trooper. Backpacks, purses and other containers were also searched. At least one student was charged criminally and suspended for a year.

The NYCLU maintains that the searches violated the students’ rights under both the U.S. and New York State constitutions. The April 9 searches of the BOCES students were not based on individualized suspicion that any particular student was engaged in illegal behavior at the time of the search. Moreover, even if the school district had adequate ground for a search, the search that was conducted was far more intrusive and humiliating than is constitutionally permissible.

“Educators should know better than to do this to kids,” said Tim Cosser, whose 17-year-old son was searched. “I know they have to keep schools safe, but I don’t understand this. It’s not right. The district needs new guidelines that protect students’ rights.”

In light of the constitutional violations that occurred on April 9, the NYCLU urges the district to take the following steps:

·         Issue a public apology making clear to the community that the vast majority of the students on the bus were guilty of no wrongdoing and acknowledging the illegality of the searches.

·         Revise its policy on student searches to state that no reasonable search may be conducted without individualized suspicion of wrongdoing.  Individualized suspicion must be based on facts known to the official about the particular student that support a belief that a search will uncover evidence of a crime or violation.

·         Clarify and enhance its memorandum of understanding with the New York State Police with the goal of with the goal of creating clear guidelines for police and school officials that protects student rights.

·         Provide all school district employees who may be involved in student searches and interrogations annual training on students’ rights.

The district covers the towns of Butler and Wolcott in Wayne County and the village of Fair Haven and parts of Victory, Sterling and Conquest in Cayuga County.

To read the NYCLU’s full letter, visit http://www.nyclu.org/node/2411.

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Location: 
NY
United States

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