New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has asked the State Department of Education to investigate the claims of four middle school black girls who claim they were strip-searched during school in Binghamton, New York.
The school district has also announced its hiring of an independent firm to review the allegations.
The four Eastern Middle School students, who have not been identified, say they were questioned and subsequently strip-searched by a school nurse and an assistant principal after appearing too hyperactive and “giddy” during lunch, leading staff members to suspect drug use.
Binghamton’s district’s policy handbook reserves strip searches for exigent circumstances, calling the procedure “intrusive in nature and almost never justified.” Parents are also to be contacted immediately in the event a strip search takes place.
Parents of the students were not made aware by the school, learning of the incident when their children returned from school.
Wednesday, Cuomo issued a statement calling for an investigation while acknowledging the question as to whether or not race factored into the decision to strip-search the students.
“The allegations that 12-year-old girls were strip-searched for drugs after being perceived as ‘hyper and giddy’ at a Binghamton middle school are deeply disturbing,” said Cuomo in a written statement, “and raise serious concerns of racial and gender bias.”
Despite retaining an independent firm to helm its own investigation, the school district maintains there is no evidence of a strip-search.
“It must be reiterated, we have no evidence that a strip search was conducted by administration,” the statement said. “We only turn to medical assessment if we find clear reason to be concerned for our students’ safety and health, which is what occurred in this instance.”
At a meeting last week, the school board said that student evaluations may require pupils to remove “bulky outside clothing to expose an arm so that vitals like blood pressure and pulse can be accessed,” according to NBC News.
Progressive Leaders of Tomorrow, a local grassroots organization, disagreed with the board’s assessment.
“The Binghamton City School District should never have stated ‘no students were strip-searched,’ solely due to an assumed lack of evidence — especially before the criminal, state or independent investigation has been concluded,” said the organization. “The first-hand accounts of the four victims are evidence, both legally and morally, and we stand behind these girls 100 percent.”