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ACLU: Strip Search Unconstitutional

August 16, 2000

DETROIT (AP) _ The American Civil Liberties Union is suing a school district, saying a locker-room strip search of students for money reported missing from a student’s wallet was unconstitutional.

The ACLU, which filed suit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Ann Arbor, is representing six Whitmore Lake High School students, ages 15 to 18, said Michael J. Steinberg, the group’s state legal director.

The lawsuit contends that the students’ Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure were violated, as well as their rights to due process of law.

The search took place after a May 24 coed gym class, when a female student said $354 she had been collecting to rent a limousine for the school prom was missing from her wallet.

``This was not a case where students’ safety was in jeopardy. There was no allegation of a gun being present or a bomb,″ Steinberg said. ``These students were strip searched over some cash that was reported missing. It’s one of the most egregious violations of student privacy rights imaginable.″

The defendants include the school district, the acting principal, four teachers and two Northfield Township police officers. Acting principal Charmaine Balsillie declined comment, citing pending litigation; the others either did not return phone calls or could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Balsillie told teachers to strip search about 20 boys in the locker room, the filing said.

``They were forced to drop their shorts, drop their underwear and lift their shirts and turn around while one of the teachers inspected them to make sure that each individual did not have the money,″ Steinberg said.

When police arrived, they advised teachers to also inspect the five female students in the class to avoid any discrimination complaints. The girls were made to stand in a circle inside the girls’ locker room and asked to pull down their pants and lift their shirts, the filing said.

Although they were allowed to keep their underwear and bras on, Steinberg said, ``it was very humiliating nonetheless.″ No physical contact was made with any of the students, he said.

The money was never found.

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