ACLU of Hawaii Sues Over Strip-Search of Female Student; 15-Year-Old Accused of $30 Theft Was Stripped Totally Bare

Affiliate: ACLU of Hawaii
May 13, 2003 12:00 am

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HONOLULU — The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawai’i today filed a lawsuit against officials at a public charter school in Pahoa over the strip-search of a 15-year-old girl who was made to stand completely naked after she was accused of stealing $30.

“A student’s right to privacy was grossly violated by the school administration,” said Brent White, Legal Director of the ACLU of Hawai’i and an attorney for the girl, who is identified in legal papers as “Jane Doe” to protect her privacy.

“The Department of Education’s policies clearly and specifically prohibit strip-searching of students,” White added. “It is difficult to understand how the principal allowed this humiliating and demeaning treatment to occur.”

The ACLU lawsuit names Hawaii Academy of Arts and Science Principal Steven Hirakami and the school secretary, Andrea Irvine. The Academy is a public charter school in Pahoa on the island of Hawai’i.

According to the complaint filed in federal district court here today, the girl was ordered to strip completely naked in front of the school secretary at the direction of Principal Hirakami, who was not present in the room. The girl and two other students were singled out as suspects in an alleged theft of $30 from a school van driver’s fanny pack.

“Jane Doe” and the other female student were taken individually into a room by the school secretary, strip-searched, and forced to stand naked while the secretary looked through their clothes, the ACLU said in legal papers. The third student, a male, was not strip-searched. The money was never found and Doe was cleared of any wrongdoing. However the trauma of the search caused her to move to another school after the incident.

White noted that the incident marked the second time in recent years that the ACLU of Hawaii has filed a lawsuit regarding the illegal strip-searching of students. The last incident involved the illegal arrest and partial strip-search of a 12-year-old girl at Niu Valley Intermediate School. The ACLU subsequently brought a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of the child, which settled for $40,000.

Vanessa Chong, Executive Director of the ACLU of Hawai’i, added that the state is under a federal court order over its poor treatment of special needs children. In today’s case, the school was aware of Jane Doe’s status, Chong said, “a fact that only heightens the severity of the school’s misconduct.”

“Unfortunately, nothing can undo the wrong that has been done to this child,” Chong said. “However, by filing these lawsuits, we draw attention to these problems and force public school officials to account for their misconduct.”

The complaint in the case is online at /node/35071

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