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A rural southeastern Missouri school district has conceded 10 teen-age girls were strip-searched during class and has apologized for accusing them of lying or “blowing it out of proportion.”
As part of a legal settlement with eight of the ten students, the Poplar Bluff School District agreed to pay each $7,500 plus attorney fees and to issue a public statement, reports the Daily American Republic.
According to the statement, the incident happened during 5th period on Jan. 6 at Poplar Bluff Junior High. The girls, who ranged in age from 12 to 15, were confronted when the teacher discovered $55 missing from her drawer. They were singled out from the rest of the class, “in spite of the fact that none of the ten girls had been seen with the money or in the area where the money was taken.”
Assistant Principal Mike Ivie, school security officer Johnny Williams and teachers looked on while gym clothing, book bags, purses, coats, shoes, socks and pockets were searched. When that failed to turn up any of the missing money, the girls were subjected to a body search by a female school nurse. Specifically, they were required to pull their shirts or blouses up over their shoulders so the nurse could search under their bras. Next, they were instructed to unzip their jeans or slacks and pull them down so the nurse could search inside the jeans or slacks and inside the waistband of the girls panties.
“The nurse said she was sorry I had to go through this,” one of the girls told the local newspaper following the incident.
The strip searches, which took an hour to conduct, were to no avail. The $55 was not found on any of the search subjects.
A mother of one of the victims reported her daughter was having nightmares due to the experience and vowed not to let her go back to the school.
“I’ve already contacted Jefferson City to get homeschooling paperwork sent,” the woman, who asked that her name not be used, told the newspaper. “It’s been devastating.”
The district expressed “sincere regret” and apologized to the students and their families in the statement for the incident and having falsely accused the girls of lying.
In January, Superintendent Randy Winston denied the girls were strip-searched.
“They were searched by a female nurse. They were patted down. Their pockets were emptied. They held out exterior articles of clothing to shake out … so if there was something stuck in the clothing, it would fall out. Never were they asked to remove their clothes,” the paper quoted Winston as saying.
“The school administration regrets giving a false impression that the incident either did not happen or was blown out of proportion,” the district conceded in its statement.
The astonishing admission is the result of eight months of legal wrangling. But despite the settlement, school officials remain anything but contrite about the incident.
“This settlement was a conclusion of the two attorneys involved. Really the school had no input into it,” the local paper quotes Winston as saying. “I’m glad that it’s now come to a conclusion and we can get on to the education of the students, which is our main focus.”
Parents aren’t fully satisfied either.
“We feel the school board let us down because they are supposed to be there for the students – not only these girls but the other students,” Dona Hulan, whose daughter was among those searched, told the paper. “They renewed Mr. Ivie’s contract and he was completely in the wrong to do [the searches]. As far as we are concerned, he way overstepped his bounds.”
Parents of two of the girls refused to sign off on the settlement. Others are considering filing criminal complaints.