The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit found that 22 sixth-grade girls likely had their rights violated when they were stripped-searched down to their bras and underwear after $50 went missing on a school field trip.
After the $50 was reported missing, a police officer working at Lanier Middle School, a public school in Texas, informed the school’s assistant principal that girls sometimes “like to hide things in their bras and panties,” reports Reason magazine. The administrator then instructed that the 22 female choir members be sent to the nurse’s office and strip-searched.
The nurse reportedly “loosened their bras” and “checked around the waistband of their panties,” but, alas, no money was found.
A federal lawsuit was filed on behalf of the girls against the district, which acknowledged they violated the rights of the sixth-graders under the Texas constitution. Though, bizarrely, a federal judge dismissed the suit. A recent decision from the Fifth Circuit reversed the finding, allowing the girls’ suit to move forward.
“During a sixth-grade choir class, an assistant principal allegedly ordered a mass, suspicionless strip search of the underwear of twenty-two preteen girls. All agree the search violated the girls’ constitutional rights under Texas and federal law. Even so, the district court dismissed the girls’ lawsuit against the school district for failure to state a claim. We reverse,” says the opinion.
As noted by Techdirt’s Tim Cushing, the strip-search was wildly out of line, especially since they were searching for $50 that went missing, not contraband. “No one was looking for weapons or even illegal drugs. It was cash—something easy to lose. That $50 has gone missing does not necessarily mean it was stolen. That it may have been stolen does not necessarily mean the female class members would have stashed it in their undergarments,” he wrote.
“The only discipline handed out for this mass violation of rights was a memo chastising the Vice Principal for performing a search to find something not actually considered to be “contraband,'” adds Cushing. “But the court points out that this memo misses the whole point of Constitutional protections and the school’s obligation to leave those (and their students) unmolested.”