Students allegedly strip-searched at Caldwell Parish High School

Courtesy: KNOE
Courtesy: KNOE(KNOE)
Published: Oct. 12, 2016 at 10:23 PM CDT
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Ninth grade students at Caldwell Parish High School were allegedly strip-searched by faculty over a student's missing money. The Caldwell Parish Sheriff's Office and the school board are investigating the incident after receiving complaints from parents of the students.

Chris Platt, one of the students searched, says his mom - along with many other parents - are not happy about what happened.

"She talked to the principal and told him that she was upset because she didn't get contacted," Platt says.

The school searched the kids after a ninth grade girl told a teacher at the school she was missing 42 dollars in fundraising money.

The students say they were pulled out of class, separated by gender, and forced to strip down to their underwear as they were searched by faculty and a sheriff's deputy.

A parent of one of the girls, Melinda Ponder, says she's outraged.

In a written statement, Ponder says, "There was no reasonable suspicion... My daughter was scared and didn't feel she had the right to refuse... I want those responsible held accountable. Whatever that may mean. If they lose their jobs, then so be it."

According to the Caldwell Parish High School handbook, searches of students are allowed "based on circumstances at the time of the search... if there are grounds to suspect the search will reveal evidence".

Platt feels the search was uncalled for, especially because it forced the students to miss their bus rides home.

"Some kids didn't have a phone and couldn't contact their moms and all that," Platt says. "It was just weird to do that around a bunch of boys, you know. Some kids didn't even have underwear on, but Mr. Bowman said he didn't care - drop your britches."

The Caldwell Parish Sheriff's Office is now looking into what happened.

Sheriff Clay Bennett says, "We've opened up an investigation. We intend on talking to every student that was involved, every teacher that was involved."

The students are returning to school as usual, and Platt says the missing 42 dollars has still not been found.

Superintendent John Gullatt says the school board intends to find out exactly what happened the day of the alleged search.

Caldwell Parish High School has yet to comment.


Statement from ACLU

The ACLU of Louisiana has learned the students at Caldwell Parish High School were illegally strip-searched yesterday after school officials were told that one student complained that some money was missing. This invasion of the privacy and due process rights of students directly violates clear precedent by the United States Supreme Court. Strip searches by school officials are generally regarded as so intrusive that they cannot be legally justified. When an assistant principal strip-searched a high school student he suspected of hiding prescription pain relievers, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled his search of that student to be a violation of her rights. Safford Unified School Dist. No. 1 v. Redding 557 U.S. 364 (2009).

“Students have the right to privacy and dignity in school,” said Marjorie R. Esman, Executive Director of the ACLU of Louisiana. “The law protects students from the indignity of generalized strip searches. No student should fear that school officials will violate their most private autonomy without specific, individualized suspicion. The officials of Caldwell Parish High School owe all students an apology and must commit to upholding the law, particularly the Constitutional rights of their students.”