Two children who attended a private Christian school in Wisconsin were illegally strip-searched and had their constitutional rights violated by a state social worker, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled Monday.
In Michael C. v. Gresbach, the court said state worker Dana Gresbach violated the children’s Fourth Amendment rights to freedom from unreasonable search when she entered Good Hope Christian Academy in Milwaukee, Wis., had the children pulled from the classrooms and told them to remove their clothing when she suspected the parents of spanking in February 2004.
Stephen Crampton, vice president of legal affairs and general counsel for Liberty Counsel, represented the parents of 8-year-old Ian and 9-year-old Alexis when they sued the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare and the caseworker.
“We are obviously pleased with the result, but candidly, we wish they had been more harsh on this renegade department that has ruined the lives of so many well-intentioned families already,” he told WND.
Crampton said this type of overstep is common among social workers, and they often do not give it a second thought.
“The social worker performed these strip searches as a matter of routine, estimating that in perhaps one-half of the 300 or so cases she handled every year she subjected kids to a partial disrobing,” he said. “In fact, she testified that she considered it so routine that she did not bother to discuss her intentions with her supervisor, even though she spoke to her on her way to the school.”
The state had several social workers file affidavits saying they would have followed the same procedure. Crampton said, “That is an alarming admission, and we suspect you would find a similar pattern in social service offices all over America.”
When Gresbach entered the school, she handed her business card to Principal Cheryl Reetz and told her she needed to see Ian and Alexis. Reetz asked the social worker if she could call the children’s parents, but Gresbach refused to allow it, saying she would contact them at a later time. The principal then asked if she could remain in the room to observe the interview, but she was denied permission to do so.
According to court documents, state officials claimed they made efforts to speak with the parents and stepparents of the children, but the visits never occurred.
Crampton said the mindset of most social workers is that parents are the problem.
“They go to great lengths to lock parents out of the process, treating them as the enemy, and ultimately doing more harm than good by driving something of a wedge between the children and their parents,” he said.
The social worker spent nearly 15 minutes alone in the room with each child. She searched Ian’s wrists for bruising and asked him to pull up his shirt. He complied, and she examined his back for suspicious marks. Gresbach then privately inspected Alexis, asking her to pull down her tights and lift up her dress. The worker was unable to find any sign of injury on the children’s bodies.
Gresbach’s behavior is not a one-time incident uncommon among social workers. In Doe v. Carla Heck, the court addressed an eerily similar child abuse investigation where children’s rights to freedom from unreasonable search were violated by the same state agency on the premises of another private educational facility.
“The problem almost always arises only in private schools,” Crampton said. “Public schools, as agents of the government, routinely roll over and give social workers access to any student they wish to see, provide a room for them, and in short serve up our children on a platter, without bothering to contact parents,” he said.
Gresbach claimed she was entitled to qualified immunity because her actions were reasonable under the Fourth Amendment; however, the court disagreed.
“We do not exempt child welfare workers from adhering to basic Fourth Amendment principles under non-exigent circumstances – to do so would be imprudent,” the court stated. “… we do not believe that requiring a child welfare caseworker to act in accordance with basic Fourth Amendment principles is an undue burden on the child welfare system, particularly when it is necessary to conduct an examination of a child’s body, which is undoubtedly ‘frightening, humiliating and intrusive’ to the child.”
Crampton said Christian families have the freedom to follow scriptures in administering corporal punishment and should not have their rights violated by power-hungry government officials.
“That social workers and bureaucrats don’t like it is no reason to allow the trampling of the constitutional rights of parents and their children,” he said. “It is the high privilege and high responsibility of parents to oversee the care, custody and education of their children, not the state.”
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