Zulayka Mckinstry of Binghamton addresses the school board over allegations that school officials strip searched four girls, including her daughter.
Ashley Biviano, pressconnects.com
The parents of four preteen girls who say they were strip-searched at East Middle School have outlined a list of demands to the Binghamton City School District through the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which is representing the families.
According to a letter, sent by the New York City office for the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, dated Feb. 7 and posted to its website, the alleged search of the four 12-year-olds, who are black, on Jan. 15 was “unlawful and demeaning.” Attorneys have requested a meeting within 10 days and said if the demands are not met within 30 days, the families may file suit.
“Four black and Latina girls were singled out by district school personnel for overly harsh and demeaning treatment, based upon race and gender stereotypes,” the letter reads.
The district has not yet responded to a request for comment regarding receipt of the letter.
The Legal Defense Fund accused the district of violating the Fourth and 14th Amendments, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, and Title IX of the Education Amendments, and said the students “feel neither safe nor welcome at the school.”
The letter outlined the following demands:
- Immediate enrollment at West Middle School for each girl.
- Immediate provision of compensatory school work and tutoring for the days the girls have been out of school, and a grade adjustment during the interim period once make-up assignments have been completed.
- Payment for mental health and social emotional support for each child on a biweekly basis or as needed with a provider of each student’s choice until graduation.
- A written apology from the principal, assistant principal and school nurse that includes acknowledgment the events occurred, to the extent those persons are still employed by the district.
- To the extent they are still employed by the district, appropriate disciplinary actions — up to and including termination — of the principal, assistant principal and school nurse.
- Revision of the school Code of Conduct and district policy to prohibit strip searches.
- Documentation of student searches with aggregate information made publicly available.
- Training of all school personnel on the Constitutional rights of students, and parent notification and/or consent of searches.
- A survey to assess the racial climate in the district.
- Race and gender bias training for all staff in the district, and training to combat stereotypes at the intersection of race and gender.
“If you fail to comply with the above demands within thirty days from the date of this letter [Feb. 7], our clients may file a civil action addressing … the causes of action and events described in this letter,” the letter states.
The school said there is “no evidence” that strip searches were conducted, but has hired a third-party firm based in Syracuse to investigate the allegations.
On Jan. 30, Gov. Andrew Cuomo urged the state Education Department and New York State Police to investigate. The state police’s investigation has begun.
According to the Legal Defense Fund attorneys, the girls were stopped by East Middle School Principal Tim Simonds in the hallway during lunch and were asked where they were going. The girls laughed during this conversation, and then were escorted by Simonds and Assistant Principal Michelle Raleigh to the health office.
While in the nurse’s office, each girl was brought separately to an exam room, where the nurse conducted a sobriety check, vitals check and a search on each girl, the letter alleges.
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“The search varied amongst the girls, but all girls were made to remove at least some of their outer clothing, in some cases exposing their undergarments,” read the letter. “During some of these searches, [the nurse] also made embarrassing and humiliating comments about some of the girls’ bodies and physical condition.”
According to the letter, three of the girls returned to class afterward, but none was allowed to contact their parents.
“The girls have been traumatized by the January 15 searches,” said the letter. “They feel humiliated because they were forced to expose their bodies and were subject to embarrassing comments. They feel their dignity was violated by adults whom they trusted in what should have been a safe educational setting.”
According to the letter, the girls are attending an alternative school for four hours a day, which the LDF calls “wholly inappropriate” given that the district’s Code of Conduct considers placement at the alternative school to be a disciplinary sanction.
Attorneys claim there were no legal grounds to conduct a strip search of the girls, citing a lack of reasonable suspicion or “moderate chance of finding evidence of wrongdoing.”
The letter was sent to the district’s attorney Robert McKertich, with Coughlin & Gerhart, LLP.
The alleged strip searches have sparked local outcry and garnered national attention. A Jan. 22 board meeting drew more than 200 community members, and more than 100 rallied at the school Jan. 29.
A Binghamton resident tells the board they should be “ashamed of themselves.”
Ashley Biviano, pressconnects.com
Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for an investigation into allegations that middle school girls in Binghamton were strip searched during a visit to Buffalo on Jan. 31, 2019.
Joseph Spector, Albany Bureau Chief
Social worker and activist Shanel Boyce says four black girls who say they were strip searched at Binghamton school have been “denied innocence.”
Kate Collins, email@example.com | @kcollins213
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