ACLU of Michigan Sues School District Over Strip Search of Students

Affiliate: ACLU of Michigan
August 15, 2000 12:00 am

ACLU Affiliate
ACLU of Michigan
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

DETROIT — The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed a federal lawsuit today against the Whitmore Lake School District for the unjustified strip searches of more than 20 male and female students last May.

“This lawsuit should send a clear message to school districts across the state that they must stop turning school houses into jail houses,” said Michael J. Steinberg, legal director of the Michigan ACLU.

“Strip searching students is just the latest in a disturbing series of attacks on students’ privacy,” he added. “High school administrators have recently searched students’ backpacks and lockers without cause, and subjected students to metal detectors, drug-sniffing dogs, surveillance cameras and drug testing. What’s next — cavity searches?”

The ACLU lawsuit was filed on behalf of six victims of the strip search: three boys and three girls. According to the lawsuit, on May 24 of this year school employees strip searched all members of a gym class in an unsuccessful attempt to recover money that was reported stolen.

In its legal complaint, the ACLU said that school district, its employees and two local police officers violated the students’ Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches. It also alleges that the school district and its employees ignored the district’s own policies in violation of the students’ due process rights.

“I was outraged to learn that my daughter had been strip searched,” said Ed Gariepy, whose daughter was among those searched. “There was no reason to believe that she had stolen the money, yet they made her take off her clothes without my permission. We have to make sure that this never happens again.”

The incident was sparked when a Whitmore Lake student reported that $354 was missing from her wallet, money that she was collecting to pay for a limousine to the prom. The student had left the wallet in her backpack in the locker room while she went to gym class.

The acting principal, Charmaine Balsillie, ordered several teachers to search all of the gym students. Approximately 20 boys were ordered into the shower room one at a time. Each boy was directed to remove his pants, lift his shirt and drop his underwear while a teacher examined him.

When two Northfield Township police officers arrived and learned that the boys had been strip- searched but not the girls, they instructed Balsillie to have the girls searched to avoid charges of discrimination. The five girls in the gym class were then forced to stand in a circle in the locker room, and pull down their shorts and lift up their shirts so the teachers could inspect their underwear. The money was never recovered.

“It was humiliating and degrading to be forced to pull down my pants in front of my teachers,” said Peggy Shumway, one of the students searched. “I did nothing wrong and there was no reason to treat me like a criminal.”

The students are represented by ACLU of Michigan Legal Director Michael J. Steinberg, and attorney Scott Yaldo of Yaldo & Domstein in Birmingham.

The case has been assigned to Judge George E. Woods of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. The ACLU complaint is online at http://www.aclumich.org/briefs/WhitmoreLakecomplaint.htm.

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