ALBANY, N.Y. — Allegations that four 12-year-old girls were strip-searched for drugs in an upstate New York middle school because they were hyper and giddy raised “serious concerns of racial and gender bias,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday, as he directed the state Education Department to investigate the incident.
Binghamton City School District officials last week said the girls, who are black, were evaluated Jan. 15 by the nurse but not strip-searched as their parents and a community group have described.
But on Tuesday the district said it has hired a local law firm to investigate and provide a “full and objective assessment.” It said it also will form a committee, including parents and community faith leaders, to review school policies and protocols involving students.
“Asking a child to remove her clothing — and then commenting on her body — is shaming, humiliating, traumatic sexual harassment,” Democrat Cuomo said, adding that state police will offer assistance to investigating local authorities.
More than 100 people rallied outside the middle school Tuesday afternoon to pressure the school district into taking action a week after a crowd spoke out against the incident at a school board meeting. The community group Progressive Leaders of Tomorrow organized both protests via social media.
“This is one incident of many, and we demand justice and accountability for all the victims and their families,” the group said in a statement Wednesday following Cuomo’s announcement. The group said the school district “is learning a valuable lesson about sweeping child sexual assault under the rug and calling sexual assault victims liars.”
Parents of the four girls have said that their daughters were told to remove their clothing to be searched for drugs and missed several days of instruction because “they no longer feel safe” at school.
In a statement last week, the district said “there has been a lot of misinformation being spread through social media from third parties” and went on to say “no students were strip searched, nor were they punished as a result of the incident in question.”