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‘Dehumanizing’ Body-Cavity Search at School

An upstate New York school district is the focus of an alarming assault complaint that says school officials pried open a student’s vagina and buttocks, and used a flashlight in a futile search for drugs.

(CN) – An upstate New York school district is the focus of an alarming assault complaint that says school officials pried open a student’s vagina and buttocks, and used a flashlight in a futile search for drugs.

“This is a first for Harrisville,” school nurse Kelly Avallone laughed, according to the complaint, during the vaginal examination.

Officials from the Harrisville Central School District have not returned requests for comment about the complaint, which the student filed anonymously on Dec. 8 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York. The requests for comment were emailed Thursday after business hours.

Jane Doe’s 20-page complaint reads like a dystopian novel. The high school student, who does not reveal her age either now or at the time of the search, says the ordeal began “like any other typical day” when she arrived for classes on Dec. 11, 2015.

School principal Eric Luther sought Doe out, according to the complaint, at 8:05 that morning and told her to “go for a walk with him.”

Doe says two members of the New York State Police were stationed outside the main office, and that she found the district superintendent, Robert Finster, in the principal’s office, along with Amy Bird, the principal of the middle school.

Upon learning that other students had accused her of possessing drugs, Doe insisted that the allegations were false.

The complaint says Doe offered to let Luther search her backpack in front of her, but that the school officials had a more humiliating search in mind.

Doe had to leave her backpack behind, according to the complaint, while Luther and Bird took her to the nurse’s office with a change of clothes.

“Jane was told that she would undergo a ‘strip search,” the complaint states.

With Avallone and Bird looking on, Doe says she followed orders to disrobe completely.

Despite the spare set of clothes on hand, the women allegedly forced Doe “to stand exposed for several minutes” while they inspected her shirt, bra, boots, pants and underwear.

“No drugs, contraband, or any other prohibited substances were located in any of Jane’s clothes,” the complaint states.

Then nurse Avallone allegedly offered to perform a rectal exam.

“No,” Jane said immediately, according to the complaint, which continues to say that “Jane clearly indicated to defendants Bird and Avallone that she was not willing to undergo a rectal exam.”

Doe says Bird warned her that there would be a “serious problem” if she “put anything up there.”

“Scared and disturbed by the mention of a rectal exam, Jane pleaded to defendants Avallone and Bird to let her urinate in a toilet to prove she was not concealing anything in her rectum," the complaint states.

Doe says they took her up on her offer, with Avallone watching as she urinated.

Though Doe urinated normally, the nurse ordered Doe, flashlight in hand, to turn around.

“Jane protested and said 'no!'," the complaint states.

“Bend over,” the nurse said next, according to the complaint, as she then "pried Jane's buttocks apart with her hand, exposing Jane's rectal cavity.”

Ordered after to “turn around,” Doe says she complied with Avallone’s orders “to expose her vagina for examination.”

"Using her hand, Defendant Avallone pried apart the opening to Jane's vagina and shined her flashlight inside," the complaint states.

As with the student’s rectal cavity, the complaint says “there was absolutely nothing concealed in Jane’s vagina.”

Doe says she requested to call her father while she was dressing but that Bird said no and offered no explanation.

When Luther retuned Doe’s backpack to her, according to the complaint, she says her belongings were rearranged and that Luther admitted to searching the backpack outside of her presence.

All Luther had to say in explanation of his activity, the complaint says, was “Stop having your name associated with people with drugs.”

"The severe emotional toll of the morning's events left Jane extremely upset, so she eventually requested to leave school early for the day," the lawsuit states. "Jane missed several days of school due to her ongoing emotional distress resulting from this incident."

Doe seeks punitive damages, alleging 13 causes of action including unreasonable search, false arrest, assault, battery, false imprisonment, emotional distress, negligence and gender discrimination in violation of Title IX, the federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in education.

The student is represented by Donald DiBenedetto with Costello, Cooney & Fearon of Syracuse, New York.

Categories / Civil Rights, Education

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