BINGHAMTON, N.Y. – Gov. Andrew Cuomo has called on the New York State Education Department to investigate allegations that four black 12-year-old girls were strip-searched at a Binghamton middle school.
“The allegations that 12-year-old girls were strip-searched for drugs after being perceived as ‘hyper and giddy’ at a Binghamton middle school are deeply disturbing and raise serious concerns of racial and gender bias,” Cuomo said in a statement issued Wednesday. “Asking a child to remove her clothing – and then commenting on her body – is shaming, humiliating, traumatic sexual harassment.
“We stand with those who are calling for clarity on this troubling incident,” Cuomo added.
Cuomo’s announcement came one day after the Binghamton City School District said it had hired a third party to conduct a review of the allegations at East Middle School.
Four black female students and their parents say the girls were questioned and strip-searched Jan. 15 by the school nurse and assistant principal based on suspicion they possessed drugs. A statement distributed by local organization Progressive Leaders of Tomorrow alleged the girls were searched for “appearing hyper and giddy during their lunch hour.”
Community members rallied Tuesday afternoon at East Middle to show their support and to pressure the district into taking action. A week before, more than 200 people attended the district’s board meeting to speak out against the alleged strip search.
More: School denies conducting strip search of four black middle school students in New York
Initially, the district flatly denied a strip search had been conducted. In a statement issued Tuesday, the district said there was “no evidence” the strip search was conducted, but that it had hired Ferrara Fiorenza PC, a third-party firm specializing in school law and employment law, to conduct a “full and objective assessment.”
“We are committed to preserving public trust, and we welcome a full and objective assessment,” the district said in its latest statement.
According to the statement, “We realize that even when policies and procedures are followed, that does not preclude those involved, either directly or indirectly, from being affected.”
The district said it will form a committee to review the policies and protocols involving students.
“The committee will include members of our local faith communities, the Binghamton City School District, parents and members of our partnerships created under the district’s existing Community Schools Program,” the district said.
More: What to know about the protest at Binghamton East Middle School
District officials said parents were contacted the day of the incident, but did not say whether the parents were contacted before or after the alleged search of the four girls took place.
A mother of one of the girls spoke at last week’s board meeting and said she was not contacted until after the alleged strip search, and said her daughter was detained for an hour and nine minutes.
More: Middle school strip search claims prompt question: What searches can schools conduct?
Broome-Tioga NAACP President Mica Barreiro addressed the board at last week’s meeting and urged them to take accountability measures, including demanding the end of the practice of strip-searching children for any reason. He also called for the removal of the school’s principal, assistant principal and nurse who allegedly administered the searches, among other demands.
Pressconnects.com / Press & Sun-Bulletin, part of the USA TODAY Network, submitted a Freedom of Information Law request to the city’s police department, but the city said the request was denied because it’s an open investigation.
Cuomo has directed the New York State Police to assist the local police involved.
Ferrara Fiorenza PC has not responded to request for comment.
More than 100 people attended Tuesday’s protest in cold and snowy weather.
One sign at the rally read, “Black girl joy is the anti-drug.” Another said, “The average 12-year-old is hyper and giddy. Stop shaming children of color.”
Speaking at the rally, Binghamton resident Kymel Yard said: “This is not an isolated incident. This is a systemic problem. I believe you, I will stand for you, I will fight for you. We believe black girls, your lives matter, and no individual on Earth will change that.”
Follow Ashley Biviano on Twitter at @ashley_biviano.