NYCLU Hails Victory For Students' Privacy Rights Following Lawsuit Over Forced Gynecological Exams

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
January 31, 2004 12:00 am

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U.S. Department Of Education Agrees to Changes to Protect Students’ Reproductive Health Privacy


NEW YORK — The New York Civil Liberties Union today announced that it has reached a settlement in its federal lawsuit against the U. S. Department of Education for illegally suspending a group of female students and requiring them to submit gynecological records as a condition for reinstatement.

“The NYCLU will take steps to ensure the student population understands that the Department of Education policy prohibits such actions in the future,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “We will get that message out.”

According to the NYCLU lawsuit, a group of 13- and 14-year old students at Intermediate School 164 in Washington Heights were singled out by school officials 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 documented gynecological examinations and tests for pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and HIV. The NYCLU represented five of the girls in a lawsuit filed in the Southern District of New York against two school administrators, the DOE and the City of New York.

Under the terms of the agreement, school officials are barred from demanding that students undergo or reveal the results of pregnancy, STD and HIV testing and may not exclude students for being pregnant, HIV-positive or having an STD. The DOE will also ensure that all middle school and high school principals and guidance counselors, among others, receive training on the new policy in the coming months and will submit a progress report by August 2004. In addition, the DOE agreed to remove references to the incident, including doctors’ notes containing confidential test results, from each student’s school record.

One of the teenage plaintiffs in the case, “Susan Roe,” expressed relief about the settlement. “I’m really glad that they’re changing the rules and training the principals so they know what the rules are. It’s really good because it means that other kids aren’t going to have to go through the same thing I did and feel bad like I did. It was so embarrassing and made me feel small.” (Roe and the other teenage clients in the case remain anonymous to protect their privacy.)

The mother of another teen plaintiff, “Jane Doe,” added: “Before, because these rules weren’t clear to principals, my daughter and my family had to go through a humiliating and traumatic experience, a very painful incident that I will never forget.”

While praising the agreement, the NYCLU expressed concern that there are no assurances that the administrators named in the lawsuit will not repeat their actions at I.S. 164. Both not only continue to work there but also have been promoted — and neither has apologized to any of the students.

“We are also deeply concerned that the DOE isn’t doing enough to ensure that students at this school know their rights and can protect themselves,” Lieberman said. Pamphlets detailing the privacy and educational rights of students where their reproductive health is concerned will be provided to every junior and high school guidance office and school-based health center, but the pamphlets will be distributed to students only upon request, even at I.S. 164, where the original incident took place.

But, Lieberman, emphasized, the settlement is a victory for the courageous students who stepped forward to defend their rights.

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