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Oklahoma principal sued over illegal vape pen strip-search after middle schooler says she was ordered to ‘show her bra’ and ‘spin’


Heartland Middle School, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (screengrab via YouTube/KFOR)

The mother of an Oklahoma City middle schooler has sued her daughter’s school for subjecting the student to an illegal strip search during which the child was allegedly forced to lift her shirt, show her bra, and spin in front of the school principal and an uncovered window.

According to the complaint filed on March 3 in Oklahoma state court, school officials suspected the girl had a nicotine vape pen in her possession, then searched her per the principal’s directions. No vape pen was found during the search, and no warrant was obtained prior to the search.

The girl, identified in court papers as “S.W.”, alleges via the filing that she was forced to “bare her abdomen and the top of her boxers and spin” in a room with an uncovered window that exposed her to the general access areas of the school. The school principal, Veronica Johnson — who is also named as a defendant — supervised the search and asked S.W. “what undergarments she was wearing under her pants.” S.W.’s mother alleges that Johnson “commanded S.W. to lift her shirt high enough so that [she] could see the minor child’s bra.”

In addition to the principal, Edmond Public Schools and Heartland Middle School are named as defendants.

The lawsuit raises claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence, violation of school policy, unreasonable search and seizure under both state and federal law, sexual assault, and simple assault. The plaintiffs claim damages in excess of $25,000 and allege that S.W. suffered “extreme emotional distress and hardship” as a result of the incident.

Both Oklahoma law and the mirroring school policy specifically forbid strip searches beyond removing students’ outerwear. Under the law, any search conducted by school officials must be “reasonably related to the objective of the search and not excessively intrusive in light of the age and sex of the student and the nature of the infraction.”

The statute includes a clear prohibition against the kind of search S.W. says occurred: “In no event shall a strip search of a student be allowed. No student’s clothing, except cold weather outerwear, shall be removed prior to or during the conduct of any warrantless search.”

Had there been no specific prohibition on school strip searches, an analysis of the search of S.W. would raise questions about what contraband was being sought and what expectations of privacy a middle schooler would have on school grounds. However, given that strip searches are specifically prohibited, the statute is likely to constitute a major hurdle for any defense on behalf of school officials.

A representative from the Edmond Public Schools District declined to comment on the pending litigation.

Law&Crime reached out to the plaintiff’s attorney for comment but did not receive an immediate response.

You can read the full complaint here.

In recent years, legal woes for school districts over vape-pen searches gone wrong have become increasingly common. A Wisconsin school superintendent at one point even faced criminal charges after she allegedly performed strip searches on multiple high school students in a secluded bathroom. A judge later dismissed the false imprisonment charges without prejudice.

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Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos