Strip Search at New York Middle School Triggers Lawsuit

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) filed a lawsuit against a New York school district after four 12-year-old girls were reportedly subjected to an illegal strip search in January because they were “hyper” and “giddy.”

The law organization, along with the law firm Morrison & Foerster LLP, said in a statement on April 29 they filed the complaint on behalf of the girls’ parents. The girls — who are Black and Latinx — attended East Middle School in the Binghamton School District in Binghamton, New York. In January, they were talking and laughing in the hallway during their lunch period when they were escorted by Principal Tim Simonds and Assistant Principal Michelle Raleigh to the school nurse’s office because of their “unusual behavior,” according to the complaint.

While they were in the nurse's office, school nurse Mary Ellen Eggleston “conducted intrusive and demeaning searches” and directed the 12-year-olds to remove “various articles of clothing,” according to the statement. The girls’ parents were not contacted before they were searched, according to the complaint. Since the search, the girls have been moved to a different school. “All students deserve to learn in a safe and supportive environment. Yet racial bias disrupted the education and wellbeing of four Black and Latina, middle-school students, whose normal, childlike behavior was used by school officials to justify illegal strip searches simply due to the color of their skin,” said Cara McClellan, LDF attorney and Skadden Fellow in the statement. “We cannot undo the trauma endured by these four young girls at the hands of school officials, but we will fight to vindicate their rights and to ensure that all Binghamton students are able to learn in schools that respect and protect them, regardless of their race or gender.”

Simonds, Raleigh, and Eggleston reportedly made inappropriate comments about the girls' bodies during the search, the complaint noted. The three school officials are white. “In addition, Nurse Eggleston, at times in the presence of Principal Simonds and Assistant Principal Raleigh, conducted vitals tests, searched each girl’s belongings, and subjected each girl to humiliating and inappropriate comments about their bodies,” the complaint read.

The girls were sent back to class “as if nothing had happened,” according to the complaint, and one was given an in-school suspension “without explanation.” “Every student deserves to attend a school where they are not subject to intrusive and demeaning searches, and where there are no artificial barriers to learning. Our firm is dedicated to bringing meaningful social change for those who need it the most and this case is a part of our rich tradition of pro bono work on Civil Rights cases,” Joshua Hill, a partner at Morrison & Foerster LLP said in the statement.

In January, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called on the New York State Police and the State Education Department to launch an investigation following the news of the incident.

“Asking a child to remove her clothing — and then commenting on her body — is shaming, humiliating, traumatic sexual harassment. In New York, we have zero tolerance for discrimination or harassment of any kind, especially in our schools, and we stand with those who are calling for clarity on this troubling incident,” Cuomo previously said in a statement.

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.