A school board in upstate New York is denying allegations that four black middle schoolers were strip-searched last week in a school nurse’s office. The claims rippled through the Binghamton, N.Y., community, prompting hundreds of concerned residents to come out to a school board meeting this week to demand why no action had been taken against the staff at Eastern Middle School.
The allegations were first circulated online last week by the community organization Progressive Leaders of Tomorrow. The group wrote that four Eastern Middle School students, all of whom are black girls, were questioned and strip-searched by a school nurse and assistant principal on Jan. 15, reports BuzzFeed. The girls were searched, the group said, because they seemed giddy and hyper during lunch—leading school staff to suspect the girls possessed drugs.
Apparently, giddy or hyper teenage girls are an anomaly.
The students’ parents were unaware the search happened until the girls came home from school, the Progressive Leaders group said.
“The children had their clothing removed and felt shamed, humiliated, and traumatized by [the] experience,” the group wrote on Facebook. “While they were being searched the nurse made disparaging comments about the eczema of one girl and the size of another’s breasts.”
“They, as well as their parents, believe the heinous and excessive actions implemented by the school were racially motivated,” the group added.
Binghamton’s district’s policy handbook states that strip searches should only be conducted under “exigent” circumstances, writes BuzzFeed. The handbook adds that the procedure is “intrusive in nature and almost never justified.” And if a strip search is done, police and parents “will be contacted immediately.”
Nearly 200 Binghamton community members attended a school board meeting on Thursday—many of them to demand answers from officials about what happened and to discern why no punishments had been handed down to the staff responsible for allegedly searching the girls.
The same day, the school district released a statement denying the allegations, writing that “misinformation” had been spread by third parties on social media, writes the Washington Post.
“No students were strip-searched, nor were they punished as a result of the incident in question, and they were allowed to return to class after being evaluated,” the school district wrote.
Those evaluations could involve an administrator asking a student to empty their pockets, remove their shoes and/or remove their jackets, the district said.
They also apologized for the “unintended consequences of making the students feel traumatized.”
The Binghamton School Board repeated the denials in front of the standing-room-only crowd at the Thursday-night meeting. Though they never specifically said what happened to the girls, the Binghamton City School District said school staff is permitted to perform physical and medical evaluations if they have reason to suspect “a student’s health is in danger or is in possession of a substance that may harm themselves or others.”
Binghamton residents didn’t appear convinced by the school board’s statement. As the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin reports, a Binghamton High graduate, Roseanne Vasquez, questioned why the Eastern Middle staff involved in the alleged searches had yet to be disciplined.
“They should have been suspended immediately. This is a serious issue. These girls were sexually assaulted. The people involved should have been handcuffed, taken downtown and fired immediately,” Vasquez said.
Mica Barreiro, president of the Broome-Tioga NAACP, also addressed the school board on Thursday with a list of demands. These included stopping all strip searches of students; firing the principal, assistant principal, and nurse involved in the alleged search; and a public apology to the four girls.