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NYCLU Sues Department Of Education Over Egregious Abuse Of Girls’ Rights

The NYCLU today filed a federal lawsuit against school officials for illegally suspending a group of girls and refusing to let them return to school unless they underwent intrusive and highly private medical examinations and turned over the test results to the school.

“We are suing to make sure that the rights of female students are never violated this way again,” said Donna Lieberman, NYCLU Executive Director. “The Department of Education has failed to take these allegations seriously. By acquiescing in the school’s behavior the Department of Education has seriously undermined the girls’ health and education.” The officials’ actions also flagrantly violated the students’ constitutional rights to privacy, bodily integrity, equality and due process, Lieberman said.

The incident arose in mid-April of this year, 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 and sexually transmitted diseases. Administrators refused to allow the girls to return to their classes until they submitted notes showing the results of these tests. The NYCLU represents two recent graduates of Intermediate School 164 in the lawsuit filed against two school administrators, the Department of Education, and the City of New York in the Southern District of New York.

“This incident is part of a pattern of the school system taking a fundamentally misguided approach to teenage girls and their health,” said Lieberman. “To add insult to injury, the school administrators assumed that they could keep the students out of school based on the results of the tests. That is clearly illegal.”

Dr. David Bell, an adolescent medicine specialist at New York Presbyterian Hospital’s Family Planning Clinic who saw several girls seeking notes so that they could return to school, added that medical examinations should be ordered by a health care provider, not a school principal. “When you force teens to undergo intrusive medical procedures as punishment, you alienate them from the health care system and health providers they need to be able to rely on and trust in order to protect their well-being,” he said. Bell is also an assistant clinical professor of Pediatrics and Population and Family Health at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and Babies’ Hospital.

“The incident was demeaning and perpetuated harmful stereotypes about girls and their bodies,” said Rebekah Diller, Director of the NYCLU’s Reproductive Rights Project. “In ordering the tests, school officials targeted the girls and branded them with the ‘Scarlet Letter’ for attending the party.”

Click here to read the NYCLU’s complaint.

Update September 9, 2003:

NYCLU announces three more girls join lawsuit over illegal demands for medical tests at I.S. 164

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