Six teenage girls say they were forced to strip so school administrators could check them for vaping devices. Families of the teenagers—students at Suring High School in Wisconsin—have now retained a civil rights lawyer, after the local district attorney declined to bring criminal charges against Suring High officials.
In Wisconsin, it’s illegal for any official, employee, or agent of a school district to conduct a strip search of a student. School policy also specifies that this should not be done.
But District Attorney Edward D. Burke, Jr. said Tuesday he would not press charges against Superintendent Kelly Casper and the school nurse (both women) who made the girls disrobe, because Wisconsin law defines a strip search as requiring the exposure of genitals, pubic areas, breasts, or butts.
Burke said the girls were asked to strip down to their underwear and bras but not to take off their undergarments. Two students who weren’t wearing underwear were allowed to leave on leggings while officials patted down their legs. “One of the students was asked to pull her bra band away from her body, but her breasts were not exposed to Ms. Casper or the nurse,” Burke said in a statement.
One of the girls contradicts this account, however, telling police that she was made to reveal her breasts so they could check under her bra too.
Whether the search rises to the level of criminal antics, it still seems pretty ridiculous. Being forced to strip down to one’s underwear in front of others can be embarrassing and uncomfortable—especially for teenage girls, who aren’t exactly known for their comfort with their bodies—even without further exposure.
And regardless of how students feel about it, school officials shouldn’t have the right to make kids take off their clothes, period.
The whole thing is especially galling when you consider that the officials weren’t looking for a gun, a knife, or anything that may have posed an immediate safety threat. They made students strip out of concern that they might be vaping.
According to TCH Daily News, which first reported on the incident, the students were brought in for the searches after being caught vaping on school grounds. One parent told the paper that her daughter “was taken into a room and gave them her vape and the superintendent told her that she was going to strip search her anyway.”
School Board President Wayne Sleeter told FOX 11 that the board “needs time to gather and review documents” and will discuss the searches at a March 2 meeting.
Some of the girls’ parents told the Green Bay Press Gazette that they hired attorney Jeff Olson to represent them. “Olson said he plans to draft a settlement proposal and move on through litigation if a settlement isn’t reached,” the paper reported earlier today. “To my way of thinking, it’s hard to justify an intrusive search for an e-cigarette that you have already found,” Olson told Fox 11.