Law & Courts

Strip Searches of Students at D.C. Jail Bring Firings, Legal Action

By Mark Stricherz — June 06, 2001 2 min read
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District of Columbia officials disciplined employees last week involved in the strip searches of middle school students at the city jail.

At least three and as many as nine boys from Evans Middle School in Washington were strip-searched by guards May 17 while on a tour of the jail. In the wake of the incident, the jail’s warden was fired, the school’s principal and two other staff members were put on paid leave, and investigators were looking into whether other students had been mishandled.

Twelve boys, all of whom had been disciplined by the school for misconduct, were taken to the jail by the in-school-suspension coordinator and a physical education teacher as part of a crime-deterrence and civics lesson, according to Darryl J. Madden, a spokesman for the District of Columbia Department of Corrections. Guards strip-searched between three and nine of the boys, Mr. Madden said.

At least one other student from the school system was strip-searched on another trip to the jail, said Steven G. Seleznow, the chief of staff for the 69,000-student system.

Wayne R. Cohen, a Washington lawyer, said last week that he was representing between 13 and 16 students from Evans Middle School and Ballou Senior High School in a civil lawsuit against the mayor, the corrections department, and the school system, among others, over strip searches at the jail.

“Our main goal is to put policies in place to stop this from happening again, and [ensure] that it’s set in stone,” he said.

Investigations Under Way

Mr. Madden said investigators with the FBI, the school district, and the jail were examining why the boys were treated like inmates. The jail’s policy, he said, is merely to pat visitors down to detect any prohibited items.

As a result of the incident, Principal Diane Brown of Evans Middle School was placed on paid leave for failing to notify school district officials after the strip searches had occurred, Mr. Seleznow said. Ms. Brown was unavailable for comment.

Terrence Barker, the physical education teacher, and Dorothy Simpkins, the in-school suspension coordinator, were also put on paid leave.

The jail’s warden, Patricia Britton, and three guards were fired.

Other District of Columbia students have visited the jail this year, Mr. Seleznow said, including 18 girls from Evans who toured the jail on May 18. Students from Ballou High toured the jail on March 26, April 12, and May 22, he said.

Mr. Madden said that the corrections department and school district officials would revise the policy for students who visit the facility, making only high school students eligible for the tours.

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A version of this article appeared in the June 06, 2001 edition of Education Week as Strip Searches of Students at D.C. Jail Bring Firings, Legal Action

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