More than three months after a Binghamton, N.Y., middle school was accused of illegally strip-searching four black and Latina students, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) has filed a lawsuit against the school district for failing to redress or apologize for the incident.
The LDF lawsuit was brought forward on behalf of the students’ parents on Monday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York; a press release was also sent out by the LDF.
The parents of the four children are seeking unspecified financial damages against the Binghamton City School District and Board of Education, as well as the principal, assistant principal and nurse at East Middle School, where the incident occurred.
The lawsuit claims that on Jan. 15, staff at Eastern Middle School strip-searched the four students after they acted giddy and hyper during lunch—behavior not uncommon for teenage girls, but which staff at the school deemed suspicious.
Suspecting the girls had drugs, the school nurse and assistant principal allegedly conducted a strip search on the girls, all of whom were black or Latina.
“At the health office, the school nurse conducted intrusive and demeaning searches, which involved the removal of various articles of clothing, at the direction and at times with the assistance of the principal and/or assistant principal,” the LDF wrote in an e-mailed statement. “The girls were also subjected to humiliating comments during the searches. None of the girls’ parents were contacted before the search occurred. The girls have since been moved to a different school within the District.”
All of the staff involved in the incident are white, according to the LDF, which also cited research in its complaint showing how stereotypes lead adults to perceive black and Latina girls as more troublesome and suspicious than their white peers. Black girls are disproportionately punished compared to non-black students, particularly for minor offenses like dress code violations.
“In response to the disturbing and intrusive search, the four girls and their families made sensible demands that have gone unaddressed,” said Micah Barreiro, Broome-Tioga NAACP President in the statement. “Beyond calling for justice for themselves, these students have admirably urged systemic reforms so that no one else is subjected to such degrading and unconstitutional treatment in school.”
“Girls of color are subjected to harsher punishment than their white peers at East Middle School–and across the Binghamton School System–and we stand with the families fighting to make sure that ends now,” Barreiro added.
The school has denied conducting a strip search on the girls, saying an internal investigation found no such incident had occurred, according to WNBF radio.