The NAACP Legal Defense Fund has joined together with Morrison & Foerster, a nationally renowned law firm, to file a lawsuit against the Binghamton, New York, School District on behalf of the parents of four 12-year-old Black and Latina students who were allegedly strip-searched by school officials back in January.
The complaint accuses East Middle School officials of racial bias, which prompted them to interpret typical child behavior as suspicious.
The lawsuit is merely the LDF following through on its promise to up its ante after the district refused to resolve the situation, including refusing to apologize to the girls for the treatment they faced.
In early February the civil rights organizations sent out a letter to the school district demanding various changes to the policy, apologies to the girls, and disciplinary action against the officials involved in the search.
The incident started on Jan. 15, when school officials observed the girls being “hyper and giddy during their lunch hour.”
Instead of school officials seeing this exchange as the girls excited to be in one another’s company after spending the morning in classes, school principal Tim Simonds, along with Assistant Principal Michelle Raleigh, escorted them to the school’s health office where they were subsequently examined by school nurse Mary Ellen Eggleston for suspicion of drug abuse.
All of the officials involved in the search are white.
The parent of one of the girls, Chanderlia Silva, told ESSENCE back in February that she was never contacted or told about the search until her daughter detailed the incident at school to her.
“If the school has a suspicion of anything, the first thing [the principal] should have done was call me,” Silva said. “The procedure was just totally incorrect…And not only that, that school has cameras, so it should have been nothing for them to go back to their cameras to see where the girls were. But instead, they just went off of assumptions, which I feel was based off of the color of their skin, because they were females, and classism. We’re not higher class. So, I just feel like they were just being judged all around the board.”
In addition to being subjected to the humiliating search, the girls were also subject to “embarrassing and humiliating comments about some of the girls’ bodies and physical condition,” from the school nurse.
“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,” Cara McClellan, LDF Attorney and Skadden Fellow, said in a press release announcing the lawsuit. “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.”
“Morrison & Forester is proud to partner with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund on this important case,” Joshua Hill, Partner at Morrison & Foerster LLP added. “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.”