Legislation approved by the Wisconsin State Legislature on Thursday will ensure consequences the next time a school official orders teen girls to strip down to their underwear.
It doesn’t do is anything for six teen girls who went through that traumatic and embarrassing situation at Suring High School in January 2022.
“The incident that occurred at Suring revealed a statutory loophole that needs to be closed in order to protect our students from such humiliating and intrusive searches. We expect that our kids are being treated with dignity and basic privacy when at school—this bill helps to ensure that,” state Rep. David Steffen, R-Howard, said following the passage of Assembly Bill 108.
Steffen introduced the legislation with State Sen. Eric Wimberger, R-Green Bay, in response to the incident at Suring, where then superintendent Kelly Casper and a nurse confined six students to a bathroom and ordered them to strip to their underwear to search for a vape pen, FOX6 reports.
Prosecutors initially declined to charge Casper because the search did not meet the state law’s definition of an illegal “strip search,” which requires private parts to be uncovered or exposed.
“AB 108 extends the definition of ‘strip search’ to include searches that would require a student to strip down to their underwear, making this a chargeable offense moving forward,” according to a Steffen statement.
The legislation, approved with strong bipartisan support, is now with Gov. Tony Evers.
Prosecutors later charged Casper with false imprisonment because they said she lacked the authority to the restroom during the search and it was clear they didn’t want to be there, but a judge dismissed the charges in June 2022, WGBA reports.
Casper, who was paid a salary of $129,244 a year, was paid a severance of $75,000 when she inked a deal to resign 13 days before a judge dismissed the false imprisonment charges. The deal also preserved Casper’s ability under state law to request taxpayer money for her criminal defense if she is exonerated, according to the Green Bay Press Gazette.
According to Twitter post by television reporter Ben Bokun July 2022, a parent of one of the Suring students who was searched planned to pursue a civil lawsuit, as well as criminal charges through a new district attorney, though how those efforts turned out is unclear. The incident in Suring is one of many involving strip searches in public schools in states across the country.
South Fork High School Principal Timothy Atkin violated school district policy and “engaged in misconduct in office, incompetency and willful neglect of duty” in August when a “student was required to remove his clothes to his underwear” in his search of a vape pen, according to a district investigation cited by CBS12.
Atkin and three others involved were issued letters of reprimand, and the principal was reassigned to district headquarters, WTVX reports.
Three female students in Hawaii also filed a lawsuit in July against their former school over an illegal strip search they claim was in response to accusations of vaping on a class field trip, and defendants have responded that they had “reasonable grounds” for the search that was “lawful,” and not a “strip search,” according to the Honolulu Civil Beat.
In New York’s Hudson Valley Schools, parents realized shortly before school started that they had unwittingly consented to allowing their children to be strip searched via lengthy code of conduct forms that nobody fully reads.
The boilerplate language adopted by many districts allows administrators to strip search children if they “feel that there is an emergency situation.” A review of student handbooks in the region by WPDH found “Strip searches are explicitly allowed under certain circumstances at the Poughkeepsie City School District, Monroe-Woodbury Central School District, Middletown Enlarged City School District, Hyde Park Central School District and Rhinebeck Central School District.
“It’s unclear if other districts without online access to their handbooks also ask parents to sign off on this code of conduct.”