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Back to July Ed Reporter

Education Reporter
NUMBER 270 THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS JULY 2008

Social Worker Defends Routine Strip-Search
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A federal appeals court ruled against a Wisconsin social worker who visited two children at their private Christian school and asked them to partially disrobe. The social worker was looking for signs that the children's parents had abused them.

A relative of eight-year-old Ian, one of the plaintiffs in the case, reported to the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare in 2004 that the boy's stepfather hit him on the wrists with a flexible plastic stick. Social worker Dana Gresbach went to Ian's school, Good Hope Christian Academy, and asked to see Ian and his nine-year-old sister Alexis in connection with the child abuse investigation. The principal, assuming she had no choice, allowed Gresbach to meet with the children privately in her office.

Gresbach inspected Ian's wrists for injuries, and then asked him to lift up his shirt so that she could inspect his back. Ian and Alexis both told the social worker that they had never received marks or injuries from corporal punishment. Gresbach then asked Alexis to pull down her tights and lift her dress, so that Gresbach could inspect her legs for injuries. Finding none, the social worker finished interviewing the children and left the school.

In Michael C. v. Gresbach, Ian and Alexis's parents and stepparents sued Dana Gresbach and the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Services, charging that they violated the children's Fourth Amendment rights by subjecting them to unreasonable search. The family also charged a violation of the 14th Amendment's guarantees of familial relations and procedural due process.

When a district court ruled in favor of the family, Gresbach appealed, claiming qualified immunity. In May, the 7th Circuit court of appeals affirmed the lower court ruling in favor of Ian, Alexis and their family. The appeals court quoted an earlier ruling that declared, "There is no 'social worker' exception to the Fourth Amendment."

Gresbach attempted to defend her actions by telling the court that she routinely strip-searches children when investigating child abuse accusations — in as many as half of the 300 cases she handles each year. Several other social workers filed affidavits saying that they, too, routinely ask children to partially disrobe.

In an earlier court case, Doe v. Heck, the same court addressed a nearly identical situation resulting in a suit against the same social services department. That incident also occurred at a private school. Liberty Counsel attorney Stephen Crampton, who represented Ian and Alexis's parents in the recent case, told WorldNet Daily that although lawsuits typically concern incidents at private schools, the same thing happens at public schools all the time. "Public schools, as agents of the government, routinely roll over and give social workers access to any student they wish to see, provide a room for them, and in short serve up our children on a platter, without bothering to contact parents," he said.


 
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