September 30, 2014

Supreme Court will hear Atlantic High School strip search case

The Iowa Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal of the case involving the strip search of female students at Atlantic High School. The high court will review an October decision from the Iowa Court of Appeals, which ruled 2-1 that the Atlantic Community School District did not have to release the type of discipline taken against an assistant principal and guidance counselor responsible for improperly strip-searching the teenage girls.

The Appeals Court ruling said discipline cases were exempt from the state’s public records law except in the case of firings.  (Appeals Court story)

Atlantic School District Superintendent, Michael Amstein, had this comment on the Supreme Court’s decision. “If it needs to be determined at that level, then I certainly defer to the wisdom of the State Supreme Court to make that decision, other than that, all of arguments have already been made.”

Amstein says they only thing the district can do now, is wait for the matter to be resolved. “You know we’ll wait and see, I think that it’s an important case, but I think the district still stands on the original merits of that case, and we believe that employee discipline records are confidential,” Amstein says.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa filed the lawsuit seeking the information. ACLU executive director, Ben Stone, says this is a good sign for their case.

“The original appeal, we did manage to get a divided opinion from the three appeals judges, so we were intrigued with the idea that maybe we could convince the court that it would be worth them looking at it,” Stone says. “So we’re really quite pleased that the really important issues of this case are going to be examined by the Supreme Court.”

Stone says this is a very specific situation that they are seeking information on and believe it is important for the parents of the district to know. “Were they given a slap on the wrist, were they actually given more than that? How seriously does the district take its responsibility to protect children from illegal searches, especially invasive searches?,” Stone asked. “So, we’re really pleased that the high court is going to have a chance to explore that issue, and hopefully we’ll get a good result.”

The strip searches happened in  August 2009 in a locker room at the school after a classmate reported the theft of $100 from her purse. No money was found.

The district later issued a statement, saying, “After the investigation of all the facts involving the searches of several girls at the Atlantic High School several years ago, the Atlantic Community School District has determined that the searches violated the school’s policy and state law regarding school searches. The school district acknowledges that the involved girls did nothing wrong.”

The district also paid $300,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by the families of three girls who were subject to the strip search.

Ric Hanson, KJAN, Atlantic contributed to this story.