Iowa School Accused of Strip Searching Teenage Girls in Search of Stolen Money

125px-flag_of_iowasvgSchool officials in at Atlantic High School (“Home of the Trojans & Trojanns“) in Des Moines, Iowa are facing questions of why five teenage girls were forced to take off their clothing for a search after a classmate reported $100 missing from her purse. No money was found. The Supreme Court just ruled in June 2009 that strip searches were unconstitutional in Safford Unified School District v. Redding. As in the Iowa search for money, no drugs were found in the Arizona middle school search.

During the search, a female counselor and a classmate watched the girls as they were forced to strip and lift up their underwear. One girl was completely naked during the process.

Dan Crozier, the interim superintendent of the Atlantic school district, insisted that it was not a real strip search and that “[a]ccording to our board policy, it was an allowable search.”

The incident occurred when gym teacher Tim Duff reported that a girl reported $100 missing to Assistant Principal Paul Croghan. The search was then ordered.

It is not clear where the teachers are drawing the line between a strip search and ordering kids to take off most or all of their clothes. One student said that she asked if she had to disrobe and was reportedly told yes. One child refused to take off her underwear in front of everyone and was allowed to go around the corner to do so. Another asked if she could just lift up her bra and was told that that was not sufficient. One child was searched twice.

The families are suing and this will cost the school a lot more than $100 before it is over.

One of the most important elements in the case is the lack of danger to the children or the school in this case. This was part of the balancing test articulated by Justice Souter in Safford:

Savana’s subjective expectation of privacy against such a search is inherent in her account of it as embarrassing, frightening, and humiliating. The reasonableness of her expectation (required by the Fourth Amendment standard) is indicated by the consistent experiences of other young people similarly searched, whose adolescent vulnerability intensifies the patent intrusiveness of the exposure. See Brief for National Association of Social Workers et al. as Amici Curiae 6–14; Hyman & Perone, The Other Side of School Violence: Educator Policies and Practices that may Contribute to Student Misbehavior, 36 J. School Psychology 7, 13 (1998) (strip search can “result in serious emotional damage”). The common reaction of these adolescents simply registers the obviously different meaning of a search exposing the body from the experience of nakedness or near undress in other school circumstances. Changing for gym is getting ready for play; exposing for a search is responding to an accusation reserved for suspected wrongdoers and fairly understood as so degrading that a number of communities have decided that strip searches in schools are never reasonable and havebanned them no matter what the facts maybe, see, e.g., New York City Dept. of Education, Reg. No. A–432, p. 2 (2005), online at (“Under no circumstances shall a strip-search of a student beconducted”).

The indignity of the search does not, of course, outlaw it, but it does implicate the rule of reasonableness as stated in T. L. O., that “the search as actually conducted [be] reasonably related in scope to the circumstances which justified the interference in the first place.” 469 U. S., at 341 (internal quotation marks omitted). The scope will be permissible, that is, when it is “not excessively intrusive in light of the age and sex of the student and the nature of the infraction.” Id., at 342.

Here, the content of the suspicion failed to match the degree of intrusion. Wilson knew beforehand that the pills were prescription-strength ibuprofen and over-the-counter naproxen, common pain relievers equivalent to two Advil, or one Aleve.4 He must have been aware of the nature and limited threat of the specific drugs he was searching for, and while just about anything can be taken in quantities that will do real harm, Wilson had no reason to suspect that large amounts of the drugs were being passed around, or that individual students were receiving great numbers of pills.

Strip searches are unlawful in Iowa schools and it is hard to imagine that ordering kids to strip down to their underwear would not qualify as a strip search.

Town folklore indicates that money has played a central role in its history. When the town was formed by Franklin H. Whitney, B.F. Allen, John P. Cook, and others there was supposedly a debate over the name. Since they thought that they were halfway between the Pacific and the Atlantic, they agreed to flip a coin on calling their town Pacific, Iowa or Atlantic, Iowa. Atlantic won. What is not recorded is what happened to the coin or whether Whitney and Allen strip searched Cook when it went missing.

For the full story, click here.

26 thoughts on “Iowa School Accused of Strip Searching Teenage Girls in Search of Stolen Money”

  1. Does ANYBODY know

    1)DID the super consult the school’s attorney???

    2)WHO did he consult???

    IF the super consulted an attorney… the attorney should be fired immediately! If the super tried to justify this strip search using his own reasoning… HE should be fird immediately!

    WHO the attorney is is important so that other school districts, and kids, are not subjected to his total lack of judgement.

    It’s one thing for idiots to make mistakes “in the heat of the battle”… but totally something diffrent for a super, after consulting with an attorney, to say the next day… “it was an allowable search.”

    Jeeze…what idiots!

  2. I live down in Griswold which is right next to Atlantic. This is some pretty messed up stuff. If I was one of those girls I would have said F**** You to the idiots trying to perform the search. They Faculty will get there punishment. DUmb A***s

  3. I cannot believe this. I can assure you as a student at Atlantic High School in the late 60s had I been ordered to strip I would have totally refused and insisted that my parents were called. My father’s first career was teaching high school, and I know he would have been at the school in 10 minutes to have me released from these insane adults, and then been on the phone to the school board to raise holy hell and put blocks under it. I work in a high school myself now, and I cannot BELIEVE that 5 girls all complied. I am confident that none of my current students would have done so! I have to wonder what threats the adults involved made to them to force compliance. And the least excusble part of this to me is the presence of the peer who accused them! Just who was this accuser? What made her assertions so important that this might happen? I know in a small town like this WHO you are is sometimes the most important factor in anything. Perhaps a well connected spoiled brat made false accusations due to some grudge? And what on earth does ANY high schooler do with cash like that at school other than buy drugs? I think there is a lot more here than has been revealed. How reprehensible, I am sorry to see how my old school has obviously devolved into a cesspool of despotism.

  4. Did these kids not have cell phones? were they prevented from using them to call their parents?

    are children in this situation allowed to ask for and get legal counsel?

    when my niece was at Rancho Bernardo High a few years ago a Vice Principal, decided that the style of dancing the kids did simulated sex and extrapolated that the kind of underpants girls wore contributed to this so she initiated a little search of her own before the MORP (prom spelled backwards) dance.
    she took certain girls aside and forced them to show her if they were wearing thongs. she got the school rent a cop to help her coerce the girls.
    these kids had phones and they used them.

  5. It would have made more sense for the principal to pull $100.00 out of his own wallet. The school, the principal and the school district will deservedly be sued. They will deservedly lose. The school board attorney’s views on the issue are worthless.

  6. What is wrong with that Assistant Principal? Is he on a power kick? A teenage girl should never strip for a school official. As a parent, I would be outraged!

  7. This was a small amount of money, certainly not grand theft. No felony was involved and since clearly nobody witnessed the taking of the money by any of the students the forced search appears to have been way outside the bounds of law. As a parent I would be outraged at the idea that my child was detained (possibly falsely imprisoned?) and forced to strip in front of adults.

    I realize that order needs to be in place in schools, and to handle children with, well, “kid gloves” is not always appropriate in all situations. And I’m not saying that school employees should have their hands tied in dealing with fights or unruly behavior, but their actions in this case seem to have been way out of line.

    JT wrote:

    “What is not recorded is what happened to the coin or whether Whitney and Allen strip searched Cook when it went missing.”

    Funny stuff, as usual …

  8. FYI, Atlantic, Iowa is a farming community of about 7,500 people, 80 miles southwest of Des Moines, and somewhat closer to Omaha, Nebraska. It was once the home of the Tinker family who went on to legal fame after leaving Atlantic in the 1969 Supreme Court case “Tinker v. Des Moines Board of Education.”

  9. Things take a while to get to Iowa. Maybe if SCOTUS had nailed the school official with a large verdict (they didn’t, citing some nonsense about the officials not truly knowing the law–I’ll try that the next time I get stopped for an illegal U-turn) the law would get through to our local governments quicker. Even Iowans can count money and make change–I think.

  10. In an update, an unnamed administrator at the school involved in the incident has been placed on leave pending the results of an investigation:

    It also turns out that one of the girls was strip searched twice.

    From the article:

    “The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that no school official has free rein to do intimate searches of students… In addition, strip-searching is illegal in Iowa schools. [Interim Superintendent] Crozier says the district’s lawyer however, seems to feel the board’s policy on search and seizures were within the scope of the law…

    He [Crozier] says the policies the Atlantic School district came up are based on a state template. He says the state has sample policies and the board has followed those sample policies and tried to do what the state suggests.

  11. What can be done when someone is suspected of theft? Would it have been appropriate to call the Police and have them do it or do they tell the victim to bad your right to have money does not supercede thier right to steal it.

  12. Just a couple things to point out. First, this was the action of a couple of knuckleheads, who will hopefully be punished, not the work of some ‘government’ conspiracy as alleged by Puzzling. Second, while the families of these girls will hopefully get some satisfaction, the lawsuit will not punish the knuckleheads who actually did this. The taxpayers will eventually pay for this. So despite what rafflaw said above, making the school district pay a large settlement would not be nearly as beneficial as charging the school administrators with statuatory rape (or maybe beating them with a stick within an inch of their lives). Either way, at this point, i tend to blame the teachers involved alot more than the school district.

  13. What’s truly amazing is the interim superintendent’s admission that “[a]ccording to our board policy, it was an allowable search.” This opens the school district to municipal liability under *Monell.*

  14. I agree with rafflaw, but would add that those responsible need to be held accountable in a very public way, in addition to being stripped of their jobs – no pun intended.

  15. The only chance of these public officials of “learning” anything is when the court comes back with a large monetary judgment against the school district. This is against the law and it is immoral. Didn’t Iowa get the Supremes memo in the Redding case? I wonder if the school offficials consulted with their legal staff prior to doing this strip search? Stupid and sad.

  16. Yes, as AY stated: “One right gone at a time.”

    It’s much worse than many know or believe. The illegal “strip search” detailed in this story, along with many of the tasing incidents highlighted by this blog are the stories of which the public has been made aware.

    There is something going on domestically, but so far not a whistleblower in sight…

  17. When will they ever learn. I guess when it became ok to search a locker it became ok to search the students. One right gone at a time.

  18. If this is a teachable moment, you officials who did it need to realize that you are pornographic, which is not something you can do on the job in front of kids.

  19. Truly sickening. On top of the outrage and humiliation these girls must have felt, the government methodically violated each of the victims in front of their accuser!

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