Lawsuit claims Willoughby-Eastlake School staff strip-searched 13-year-old girl over vape pen

Published: Jan. 5, 2023 at 10:17 PM EST
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EASTLAKE, Ohio (WOIO) -The parents of an 8th-grade student were outraged after they learned their daughter had been strip-searched down to her underwear by a school nursing aide all over a vape pen. The family filed a lawsuit against the Willoughby Eastlake Schools Board of Education and three East Lake Middle School staff members last week.

“People will say time heals wounds right but there’s always that scar that’s left behind and that’s something she’s gonna deal with for a long time,” said Jared Klebanow, Managing Member of Klebanow Law LLC.

The lawsuit alleges the school violated the teen’s constitutional rights, didn’t train their employees properly, and intentionally inflicted emotional stress on the teen girl. Jared Klebanow is one of the attorneys representing the family. According to the lawsuit, this past September the 8th-grade student allowed a friend to put a vape pen in her locker. Later that day the school’s principal pulled her into her office and asked her about the pen.

“The principal of the district wanted to find the vape so went and searched for both of her lockers, belongings, and wasn’t able to find anything,” Klebanow explained. “In lieu of letting or speaking to other staff or students about it, this principal decided that she wanted to have the student body searched.”

Court documents allege that Principal Colleen Blaurock took the 8th grader to the nurse’s office where she told nurse’s aide Rosalyn Rubertino to strip search the child. Rubertino called the nurse Megan Kuhlman who wasn’t at the school at the time for clarification and Kuhlman instructed her to do the search. It says Rubertino told the girl to take off all her clothes including her bra and leave her underwear on. The girl did as she was told but court documents say she was not able to leave the room or refuse. After Rubertino found no sign of the vape she left the child in the room without her clothes on and came back with a UV light and shined it in her eyes.

Klebanow said the district went too far.

“In the most extreme circumstances where there might be a severe threat of violence,” Klebanow explained. “In the event and in the day and age we have if you know if there was a credible threat of a gun in a school and they had reasonable evidence or actual evidence to show that that weapon may be used you know more extensive searches may be permissible but in a case like this when you’re looking for something that again poses no threat of violence, no threat of harm to any student or staff, it is not appropriate and it’s a violation of that students rights.”

Klebanow said that the family really wants is to protect others and to make sure no other student has to suffer the way their daughter did.

“It’s so important for these teachers and these administrators to understand that these students don’t check their rights when they walk in the doors of a school,” Klebanow said. “Just because we go to school as a student doesn’t mean we don’t have our constitutional rights and it’s so important for these individuals to be trained and understand those rights and know what they can do under the law and what’s not permissible.”

The lawsuit is also seeking damages for the emotional toll the incident took on the girl.

“You can imagine the suffering that someone would go through here and what therapy and counseling might be needed after you go through something like this,” Klebanow said. “So, the damages you know will be evaluated and looked at as the case progresses.”

According to the lawsuit at a later meeting, Kuhlman said she never would have strip-searched the girl if she was there and that searches can be done in less invasive ways. Even though the district never found a vape on the student, she was suspended.

“There’s a big difference again between them wanting to find the vape searching let’s say a locker, a book bag or a coat pocket and asking a teenage girl to take her clothes off in front of an adult and someone she doesn’t know and I think the school districts have to understand that balance and must understand the law and to do so they have to educate themselves and they need to train their staff and their administration.”

19 News reached out to the school board for comment. The superintendent, Charles Murphy, sent a brief statement that reads in part, “Given the allegations of the lawsuit and the commitment to preserving the privacy of our students and parents, the Board will not provide any further comment on the underlying allegations.”

The superintendent also said that after this happened that school officials met with the girl’s parents right away to address the situation and that the school board was notified.