Tuesday, August 4, 2020
US flag

N.Y. school sued over strip-search

A woman filed a lawsuit last week against her former high school in New York, claiming she was illegally strip-searched by school officials in the presence of state police officers, the Watertown Daily Times reports, corroborated by the Associated Press.

An anonymous female is suing the Harrisville Central School District, located about 85 miles northeast of Syracuse. She’s identified in the lawsuit only as Jane Doe, and she says Principal Eric Luther, who works at Harrisville Middle/High School, called her into his office in December 2015 and told her that a few other students had accused her of having illegal drugs in her possession.

She says when she got into his office, state police officers were present and that she consented to a search of her backpack in her presence, which Mr Luther allegedly refused, instead offering her a change of clothes and telling her that her clothes would be searched.

According to the text of the lawsuit, filed by attorneys, she was taken to another room, where she was made to change into the new set of clothes Mr Luther had retrieved.

Despite her repeated denial of any drug crimes, she claims, a school nurse, Kelly Avallone, allegedly ordered her, while she wasn’t wearing any clothes, to bend over. As she bent over, Ms Avallone allegedly shined a flashlight into her rectal cavity and then, separately, into her vaginal cavity, finding no drugs during either search.

The school district did not comment on the lawsuit, at least not on the record, and all parties are innocent until proven guilty.


At this point, the case amounts to an allegation, and it shouldn’t be assumed that school officials strip-searched the plaintiff as claimed in the lawsuit. We have, in both news reports, nothing but one side of the story.

All the same, I hope schools know that in order to search students this way, they need a bit more than unsworn statements from a few students, who may have a personal vendetta against another student. Since state police were reportedly present, I wonder why drug-sniffing dogs weren’t used prior to conducting a body cavity search.

See, schools can search students without a warrant, even if they have reasonable suspicion that a student has violated school rules, let alone drug laws. But the search still has to be reasonable. This search, if it was conducted as the plaintiff claims, does not seem reasonable to me. School officials would need to show not only that they had reasonably reliable information that the girl had drugs in her possession but that she was hiding drugs in her underwear or a body cavity.

In 2009, the US Supreme Court ruled in Safford v Redding that school districts have qualified immunity and may not be liable for actual damages, even if the nurse violated the plaintiff’s Constitutional rights. But the case gave schools clear guidance for strip-searches. Schools can’t just say they don’t know they can’t do this. So if the school conducted the strip-search as the plaintiff claims, this will not go well for the school.

For school searches, “the public interest is best served by a Fourth Amendment standard of reasonableness that stops short of probable cause.” Under the resulting reasonable suspicion standard, a school search “will be permissible … when the measures adopted are reasonably related to the objectives of the search and not excessively intrusive in light of the age and sex of the student and the nature of the infraction.” The required knowledge component of reasonable suspicion for a school administrator’s evidence search is that it raise a moderate chance of finding evidence of wrongdoing.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

Recent posts

Voxitatis congratulates the COVID Class of 2020

2020 is unique and, for high school graduates, different from anything they've seen. Proms, spring sports, & many graduation ceremonies are cancelled. Time for something new.

Vertical addition (m3.nbt.2) math practice

3rd grade, numbers and operations in base 10, 2, 3-digit vertical addition practice problem

Rubber ducks (m3.oa.1) math practice

3rd grade, operational and algebraic thinking, 1, rubber ducky modeling practice problem

Distance learning begins as Covid-19 thrives

What we learn during & from coronavirus, a challenging & imminent crisis, will provide insights into so many aspects of our lives.

Calif. h.s. choir sings with social distancing

Performances with the assistance of technology can spread inspiration across the globe even as the coronavirus spreads illness and disease.

Families plan to stay healthy during closures

Although schools are doing what they can to keep students learning and healthy during the coronavirus outbreak, that duty now shifts to parents.

Illinois temporarily closes all schools

IL schools will be closed on Tuesday, March 17, through at least March 30. Schools in 18 states are now closed due to coronavirus.

Coronavirus closures & cancellations

Many schools are closed and sports tournaments cancelled across America during what the president called a national emergency: coronavirus.

Coronavirus closes schools in Seattle

The coronavirus pandemic has caused colleges to cancel classes, and now Seattle Public Schools became the nation's first large district to cancel classes due to the virus.

Most detailed images ever of the sun

A new telescope at the National Solar Observatory snapped the most detailed pictures of the sun's surface we have ever seen.

Feds boost Bay funding

Restoration efforts in the Chesapeake Bay watershed received a boost in federal funding in the budget Congress passed last month.