Teens allegedly strip searched

January 8, 2009 3:27:00 PM PST
Two students claim they were strip searched in school by a security guard over a year ago. A lawsuit has been filed claiming their constitutional rights were violated. The lawsuit says the incident happened in December of 2007 at Aspira Early College High School on Chicago's Northwest Side. The girls were freshmen at the time. The suit claims an off-duty Chicago police officer working as a guard conducted the strip search while investigating a fire.

Aspira Early College High School is a charter school that opened in the fall of 2007. The school offers up to two years of college credit and it was created to focus on educating Latino children. That's what drew at least two families. They say they expected their children would be safe but did not expect invasive security.

In December, 2007, Aspira Early College High School was a new charter school using space in a Chicago public school building on West Leland.

It's alleged a fire in a boys' bathroom led officials to strip search three freshmen girls looking for a lighter.

"What is a 14-year-old going to do when a police officer in a police uniform carrying a gun comes in and says, 'You go in this room, we're going to strip search you'? They'll be intimidated, and they'll do it," said Jim Fennerty, attorney for families .

Parents of two of the girls are suing Aspira, the principal, the Chicago Board of Education and an off-duty female officer who allegedly strip searched the girls. They claim unlawful search and a violation of the girls' constitutional rights when the then-14-year old girls were ordered to remove their underwear squat and cough.

"It's in violation of the constitution of the United States. There was no probable cause to search these girls in this manner," said Fennerty.

Mothers of the girls say they were appalled by the treatment and the girls who were affected are continuing to seek counseling as a result of strip search.

"She felt violated. She felt ashamed. She was embarrassed. It's a small school, so a lot of the staff and the students found out what had happened that day," said "Lucy R," mother.

No one from Chicago Public Schools would comment on the case on camera, but a spokesman issued a statement: "This is a very troubling matter, and we have ensured that Aspira has taken strong action in response.

"We hold all of our schools--including charter schools--accountable to high standards, and we'll be monitoring the Aspira situation very closely going forward to make sure they are consistently meeting those standards."

The mothers say they have pursued legal action because they want to prevent other children from such treatment.

"I want for this never to happen to another child," said Lucy R.

Aspira is run by Aspira Inc. Attempts to reach the organization's president were not successful.

Chicago police would not comment on pending litigation as on of the officer's is named.

A third girl who was allegedly strip searched is not a part of the lawsuit.