A New York middle school is under fire after two school employees strip-searched four twelve-year-old girls.

The girls, who are Black, were suspected of being under the influence of drugs by the school nurse and assistant principal at East Middle School in Binghamton, New York when they noticed the girls were being “hyper and giddy” during their lunch period. They instructed the girls to take their clothes off. One girl was searched while standing in her bra and underwear, and two other girls were searched while in their bra and pants. The fourth student was searched but refused to remove her clothing and received in-school suspension.

The story made headlines on January 15th but has seemingly been brushed under the rug by mainstream media. The county of Binghamton is obviously enraged, however the school is claiming that no strip search even occurred. Instead, the staff members were conducting a “medical evaluation”.

It’s been a week and a half and I’m still trying to wrap my head around this whole ordeal. How four girls laughing and acting giddy during lunch automatically equal to them being on drugs? Unsurprisingly, no drugs were found on the girls and I can’t even begin to imagine what they’re going through. Not only were they violated in a way that no child should ever experience, but given the news coverage, now all of their peers know as well.

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I used to teach high school and although searches were mandatory if something was suspected, they merely required students to empty book bags and pockets. I can assure you that strip searches were never a part of any policy. The fact that the school is standing by their employees, makes me sick. They released a statement saying that since it was a “medical evaluation,” it “may require the removal of bulky outside clothing to expose an arm so that vitals like blood pressure and pulse can be assessed.”

I’m pretty sure all of us visited the school nurse. There were times when vitals were taken, but my clothes were always on. These girls were sexually assaulted and the school board is seemingly refusing to investigate the staff members. The situation is teaching these girls that in times of sexual assault, women are rarely believed. It’s also teaching the one girl who refused to take her clothes off that there may be consequences if you stand up for yourself and say “no.”

The parents of the victims have said that due to the stress, their daughters have missed multiple days of school. In solidarity with their daughters, the released a joint letter:

“We, as parents, did not consent to these searches. We, as parents, were not notified by the school before or after these searches occurred. Listening to our children recount and relieve this trauma has been an experience we would not wish on any parent. And we hope no other child has to experience what they endured.”

There is no doubt in my mind this entire debacle was racially motivated. According to the New York TimesBlack and brown students are expelled, disciplined and suspended at a hirer rate than their white counterparts.

I saw this with my own eyes when I was teaching. I had two students who had gotten into a fight, one white and one black. Neither had gotten in trouble for fighting before, but for some reason, the black student’s punishment was an out-of-school suspension, while the white student’s punishment was an in-school suspension. In an in-school suspension, a student can get their school work and have a chance to be up to date with the rest of the class when they get back. The question has to be asked: If the students were white, would something like this have happened?

This also fits the stereotype that black children are not seen as innocent. Your lunch period was a time when you could actually sit and have fun with your friends. These girls were penalized and singled out for doing what any other twelve-year-old does.

The town of Binghamton has rallied behind the girls and New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has called for the New York State Department of Education to help with an investigation and conduct their own separate investigation.

If you want to stay up to date on the investigation, I recommend following @BingPlot on Twitter. They’re based out of Binghamton; NY and their page is full of updates on the situation.

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