School lifts AJMS girls’ skirts to find misplaced shortsMar 4th, 2011 | By Michelle Provencher | Category: News
A number of parents of Andrew Jackson Middle School students are still looking for answers after what they call, “a violation of the children’s rights” occurred during the school day.
All of the girls in A.J. Middle — which has a total population of about 300 boys and girls — were directed to the gymnasium to have their body searched for a pair of school-issued girls basketball shorts that went missing earlier that day.
Several of the students, from varying grade levels, described the search that took place in early January.
The girls were put into three lines in the gym, those wearing pants were patted down by a female teacher to feel if there were shorts underneath, said one girl. If the teacher felt shorts, the girl would unbutton her pants to show the top of the shorts underneath.
Other girls “lifted their skirts” to show if they had on the missing basketball shorts, said another student.
Two parents filed police reports, but were told it was the St. Bernard Parish School Board’s jurisdiction.
Parents continued to try to get answers at the most recent school board meeting, held Feb. 22, and were told the school was undergoing an investigation and would be notified when the formal review concluded.
Nearly two months after the search, an investigation by the school board is completed.
Beverly Lawrason, assistant superintendent and public information officer to the school board, was overseeing the investigation, which she said took several days to execute.
Students, faculty and staff were questioned during the inquiry, and Lawrason said all of their stories were congruent.
She said the skirts were only lifted to mid-thigh height, none of the girls objected or said they felt uncomfortable.
“If a student felt uncomfortable, the principal apologized,” said Lawrason.
According to the St. Bernard Parish Public Schools Guide to Student Conduct, the principal, Dr. Montrelle Sinegar, has the right to conduct searches, but she should have first notified her superiors.
“If a mass search of students’ persons, desks, lockers or of other school areas is to be conducted, the principal should notify the superintendent’s office in advance of the search for a ruling on the reasonableness or probable cause. This provision may be waived at the discretion of the principal or her designee if the health and safety of a student or students justify the immediate action,” reads page 11 of the Guide to Student Conduct.
Lawrason contended that the rule only said “should,” not “must,” and therefore is a suggestion, and not something required.
“We would have liked to have been notified,” said Lawrason of the superintendent’s office not being told of the search until after the fact. “This is a brand new principal, a brand new school year.”
However, the superintendent’s office was not the only party in the dark.
“Nobody sent a note home,” said Gwen Martin, mother to one of the girls at Andrew Jackson Middle. “A lot of parents still don’t know.”
Only a handful of parents called about the search, according to Lawrason.
“Any parent who called, we addressed these issues,” said Doris Voitier, superintendent of St. Bernard schools.
Martin said she still has unanswered questions, like what prompted the interruption of class and large-scale search for a single pair of shorts?
“We’re not talking drugs, we’re not talking a weapon,” said Martin.
The shorts belonged to the Andrew Jackson Middle School girls basketball team, which had a game that afternoon.
“The coach felt like the shorts were missing because they weren’t where they were supposed to be,” explained Lawrason.
It was important to find them or a student would not have been able to play, continued Lawrason.
Lawrason said she did not know why there were not any spare uniforms.
The shorts were eventually discovered; according to Martin, the shorts were not found on a student, but were misplaced by the coach.
Lawrason said she could not disclose where or how the shorts were found.