Private School Defends Strip-Searching Child, Says Constitutional Rights Do Not Apply

Mother sues for civil rights violations

 A mother told a Federal court this week that school officials in Pennsylvania told her that they were within their rights to strip-search her daughter, asserting that the girl “does not have constitutional rights because she is in a private school.”

The incident, which occurred last year, saw officials at the Milton Hershey School in Harrisburg order the girl, identified only as “C.W.,” to remove her shirt because they suspected she had a cell phone on her person.

stripsearchschool_small Private School Defends Strip-Searching Child, Says Constitutional Rights Do Not Apply

Such devices are considered contraband at the school, which is described as “cost-free, private, coeducational home and school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students from the families of low income, limited resources and social need operating in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

The court complaint states that the school’s nurse “touched C.W. all over her body – including her chest – feeling for a smartphone.”

No phone was found.

“After the strip search, C.W., feeling violated, was visibly upset, crying and shaken,” according to the case.

The mother, Trina Howze, is suing the school, saying that the procedure was conducted without her knowledge or presence.

When Howze called a student home supervisor, she was told that “C.W. does not have constitutional rights because she is in a private school and that the school is backed up by the Derry County Police Department; and ‘it is what it is, Ms. Howze.’”

Howze’s complaint states that her daughter’s rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment ensure “personal security and bodily integrity,” and freedom from governmental intrusion.

“C.W. had the right to be free from the intrusive physical examination,” the lawsuit states. “Plaintiff, Howze had a right to attend the strip search. The School Defendants violated those rights by ordering the strip search of Plaintiff C.W. without the consent of the Plaintiff, Howze.”

The case also notes that the school officials actions were “malicious, intentional, and displayed with a reckless indifference to the rights, safety and well being of the Plaintiffs.”

Howze’s attorneys are pressing for damages for violations of civil rights and due process, negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence, assault and battery. They are seeking in excess of $75,000, plus punitive damages, attorney’s fees, costs and injunctive relief.

Local law professor Randy Lee questioned whether the case will succeed in Federal court, noting that the Constitution protects again government intrusion, but not necessarily against private citizens or organizations. Lee suggested that Mrs Howze should seek a different legal route.

In a statement to the media, school communications officers said that they couldn’t comment on the suit because they had not seen it, adding “We take their privacy rights very seriously.”