Student Strip Search Defended

A federal judge says a strip search of elementary school students in Clayton County was unconstitutional, but that the school is not liable. CBS This Morning Co-Anchor Mark McEwen reports.

U.S. District Judge Julie Carnes says West Clayton Elementary school is shielded from liability. That means a trial will not be held on a lawsuit filed on behalf of the 11 children who were searched.

"We had to actually drop the pants to the floor and lift our shirts above our shoulders and turn around," recalled Australia, a student.

Australia and her classmates were strip-searched at school by their teacher and their drug education officer in an effort to find $26 that was missing. The money - which had been collected for a school fund-raiser - was never found.

"We did separate the children by gender. We did take them into a private area," said Gary Sams, a school board attorney.

Sams defends the search.

"We did what we think any parent would have done in that situation," he said.

But American Civil Liberties Union Attorney Gerry Webber filed a lawsuit in April 1997 against the school system and Clayton County police on behalf of the students.

"She conducted a strip search of these children and she and the officer subjected these kids to the most humiliating possible experience," said Webber.

Now, a Georgia court has ruled on the case. The court agreed that the search was unreasonable and unconstitutional. But the judge said that there was no clear legal authority at the time alerting school and police officials that a search of an entire classroom was illegal.

The police officer involved in the search was fired in May 1997.