Back to All Press Release

NYCLU Hails Victory For Students’ Privacy Rights

The NYCLU has reached a settlement in its federal lawsuit against the Department of Education (DOE) for illegally suspending a group of girls at Intermediate School 164 in Washington Heights in April 2003. School officials there ordered the girls to submit to intrusive and highly private medical examinations and to turn the results over to the school to gain reinstatement after the girls allegedly took part in a “hooky party.”

“The NYCLU will take steps to ensure the student population understands that DOE policy prohibits such actions in the future,” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the NYCLU. “We will get that message out.”

The incident arose in mid-April 2003 when the 13- and 14-year old girls were targeted after allegedly skipping school on a Friday to attend a “hooky party.” When they returned to school, they were pulled from their classes, interrogated and told that they could return to class only if they got gynecological examinations and tests for pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and HIV. Administrators refused to allow the girls to return to their classes until they submitted notes showing the results of these tests. The NYCLU represented five of the girls, all recent graduates of IS 164, in the lawsuit filed in the Southern District of New York against two school administrators, the DOE and the City of New York.

The DOE agreed to revise its school policy to make clear that school officials may not demand that students undergo or reveal the results of pregnancy, STD and HIV testing. New policy also makes clear that school officials cannot exclude students for being pregnant, HIV+ or having an STD. The DOE will also ensure that all middle school and high school principals and guidance counselors, among others, receive training on the new policy in the coming months and submit a progress report by August 2004. In addition, the DOE agreed to remove references to the incident, including doctor’s notes containing confidential test results, from each student’s school record.

One of the plaintiffs, “Susan Roe” said about the settlement: “I’m really glad that they’re changing the rules and training the principals so they know what the rules are. It’s really good because it means that other kids aren’t going to have to go through the same thing I did and feel bad like I did. It was so embarrassing and made me feel small.”

The mother of plaintiff “Jane Doe” stated: “Before, because these rules weren’t clear to principals, my daughter and my family had to go through a humiliating and traumatic experience, a very painful incident that I will never forget.”

But the NYCLU regrets there are no assurances the administrators named in the case will not repeat their actions at IS 164. Both not only continue to work there but also have been promoted and neither has apologized to any of the students. “We are also deeply concerned that the DOE isn’t doing enough to ensure that students at this school know their rights and can protect themselves,” said Lieberman. Although pamphlets detailing the privacy and educational rights of students where their reproductive health is concerned will be provided to every junior and high school guidance office and school-based health center, pamphlets will be distributed to students only upon the student’s request, even at IS 164.

But this remains a victory for the brave girls who stepped forward to the benefit of all NYC students. “The DOE has finally updated its policies to recognize explicitly what the law has always required: A student’s private reproductive health information is not the school’s business,” said Rebekah Diller, Director of the NYCLU’s Reproductive Rights Project.

Click here to read the settlement.

Click here to read about the NYCLU’s Teen Health Initiative.

As bold as the spirit of New York, we are the NYCLU.
© 2024 New York
Civil Liberties Union