ACL News, November 30, 1998

Virginia School to Pay $170,000 In Student Strip-Search Case

RICHMOND, VA -- Twenty-eight high school students who were strip-searched last year by school officials have been awarded a total of $140,000, the American Civil Liberties Union announced today. The ACLU of Virginia, which had filed a federal lawsuit in January on behalf of the students, welcomed the settlement.

"In the name of zero tolerance, school officials seem to have lost all sense of perspective," said Kent Willis, Executive Director of the Virginia ACLU. "They teach the importance of constitutional rights, then toss them aside as soon as they become in the least bit cumbersome."

The strip-searches occurred in May 1997 when a student in a gym class reported $100 missing from his wallet. School officials responded by indiscriminately rounding up approximately 50 boys and forcing them to strip down to their underwear to prove that they were not carrying the missing money.

"Strip-searches, which should be banned from public schools, are legal only under the most extreme circumstances, where the suspicion is well informed and individualized, and where the immediate safety of other students is at stake," Willis said. "None of these essential ingredients was present in this case."

Today's settlement marks the conclusion of the second of two lawsuits filed by the ACLU of Virginia on behalf of the William Monroe High School students who were strip-searched during the incident. In the first suit, which was filed shortly after the incident, the ACLU represented six students. That case was settled out of court last December when each student received $5,000 and the attorneys were awarded $2,500. The ACLU also received an additional $30,000 in today's out-of-court agreement.

"In the end," said Willis. "Greene County paid more than $200,000 for its mistake."

"We accomplished what we wanted," added ACLU cooperating attorney Deborah Wyatt, who along with Steven Rosenfield and former ACLU legal director Mary Bauer represented the 28 students. "This will certainly not happen again in Greene County, and I have my doubts that any other school in Virginia would permit it either."

Copyright 1998, The American Civil Liberties Union

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