ACLU of GA Says School Strip Search Ruling Ignores Students' Rights

Affiliate: ACLU of Georgia
October 4, 1999 12:00 am

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ATLANTA — While ruling that school officials and police officers violated the Constitution when they strip-searched an entire class of fifth graders, a Georgia judge today said that none of the adults involved could be held liable for their actions.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, which represented the 14 students and their families in their lawsuit, expressed disappointment in the ruling and said it is now considering an appeal of Judge Carnes’ ruling. The ACLU will also seek an order from the judge barring future unconstitutional strip searches of children in the Clayton County School System.

According to the ACLU’s lawsuit, a female teacher forcibly stripped some of the girls and a male officer who searched the boys partially stripped himself in search of a missing $26.

“What should I tell my clients?” said Gerry Weber, Legal Director of the ACLU of Georgia. “Where is the remedy for what they have suffered? Surely someone should be held responsible.”

In legal papers submitted to the court, the ACLU said that officials at the Clayton County School District and Police Department should be held responsible for the searches because:

  • The police department and school district had no policies or training regarding strip searches of children;
  • The school district’s assistant principal approved the searches;
  • The police department and school district should not have exposed the children to an officer with a shoplifting arrest and a teacher with a recent forgery arrest; and
  • The police department and school district ratified the searches after they occurred and took little or no action to rectify the violations of the students’ rights.

In her a 91-page order, United States District Court Judge Julie Carnes ruled that the strip searches were unconstitutional but refused to allow a jury to address the issue of damages. She said that the school district and police department were not responsible for the strip searches and that those who had conducted the searches could not be sued because their actions were not “clearly” unconstitutional.

“It seems a shame that in this time of concern for children, a time when we are trying to teach them compassion, non-violence and respect for others, that our justice system is telling them that they have no remedy when their rights are violated,” said Debbie Seagraves, Executive Director of the ACLU of Georgia. “What kind of lesson are we teaching them with this decision?”

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