Strip-searched students receive $5,000 each

A Greene County, Virginia High School settled a law-suit over a mass strip-search by paying $5,000 to each of the 28 students named in the suit. The original strip-search occurred in May 1997 when a student reported $100 missing from his wallet. To try to recover the money, the school forced about 50 students from three gym classes to strip down to their underwear and then searched their clothes. The money was never found.

A prior settlement occurred soon after the search when six students were awarded $5,000 each as part of an initial settlement. More of the students then came forward and collectively brought a second suit. The ACLU represented the students in the second lawsuit and will receive $30,000 in legal fees as part of the settlement.

The settlements, unlike a court verdict, will not influence future cases. This means that if you are strip searched, you could not cite this case in your trial. The settlements do make it much less likely that you will be strip-searched because high schools cannot afford to routinely pay out these settlements.

Doug Gwynn, the Harrisonburg lawyer who handled the case for the school, said, “Litigation costs are very high and it drives insurance companies to settle…It’s a sign of the times. Schools are being targeted for lawsuits.”

We do not recommend that you endure a strip-search in the hopes of getting part of a financial settlement. Instead, you should not let your school officials strip-search you. If they then threaten to give you detention or a suspension, then you should threaten to SUE them. If they still try to remove your clothes, scream RAPE, immediately return home, call your parents, and then call the press.

The ACLU lawyer who handled the Virginia case, said, “A strip-search should occur only under the most extreme circumstances, where the suspicion is well-informed and individualized and where the immediate safety of other students is at stake…None of these essential ingredients was present in the case.”

Even if your school only wants to strip search you, we still recommend that you call your parents and the press before you take off your clothes. You have a Constitutional right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures.

“In the name of zero tolerance, school officials seem to have lost all sense of perspective,” said Willis. “They teach the importance of constitutional rights, then toss them aside as soon as they become the least bit cumbersome.”

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