With the help of their parents, five boys, aged 10 to 11, successfully sued the city of New York for unlawfully strip searching them while in attendance at a government (aka public) school in New York. The boys filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in September 2004 and won a $450,000 settlement from the city 6 months later in March 2005.
The strip search was prompted by a teacher who accused the four boys of stealing her ring. Another administrator pulled the boys out of gym class and forced them to individually strip down to their underwear, jump up and down, and wiggle their toes. The administrator threatened to call the police and send the boys to jail “for a long time” if they did not comply. The ring was never found.
In his deposition, the administrator claimed that the search was one of his “best” and that he learned the invasive procedure from his former supervisor. He stated the searches were common practice since 1995 and that the principal of the school knew about the schools and even tried to cover up at least one. Instead of being fired, this administrator was only reassigned to administrative duties under strict supervision of the very people he claims knew about the searches.
Shocked by the search and the minimal punishment against the administrator, the boys and their parents retaliated by filing a federal civil rights suit against the board of education and the administrator. They filed the suit 4 months after the incident.
The city government tried but failed to dismiss the lawsuit by claiming the administrator acted against school policy as stated in written guidelines. Faced with the damning testimony of the administrator, the city decided to settle for at least $450,000, to be divided by the victims. The money will help pay for counseling but nothing can make up for the trauma inflicted upon these boys, two of whom are still stuck in the same school.
This ordeal seems like the natural outcome of a system that treats people under 16 as if they don’t have rights. Before the strip search even occurred, the government had already forced the boys to attend school, forced their parents to pay for the school via taxation, forced the boys to change their clothes and exercise (via gym class), and likely didn’t let them use the restroom without permission. The boys were more like inmates in a prison, then students in a school. The only thing missing was a lineup every few hours to ensure no one had escaped. It’s only natural that the boys, who had been trained to behave like prison inmates since the first grade, would agree to a strip search.
Fortunately, these boys have learned they can fight back. They now know, at a very young age, that one can successfully sue the powerful city government and win. These boys are political activists and they don’t even know it yet. They are an inspiration to all students, and their parents, who are threatened by government school administrators. It’s now up to another group of activists to prove that the city can’t force them to even attend school.