EASTLAKE, Ohio (WJW) — Willoughby-Eastlake School District workers allegedly made an eighth-grade student believed to have a vape pen strip down to her underpants to be searched, according to a new civil lawsuit.
It happened Sept. 7 at Eastlake Middle School, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday in federal court on the girl’s behalf by her mother. The district, middle school Principal Colleen Blaurock, and the the school’s nurse Megan Kuhlman and nurse’s aide Rosalyn Rubertino are now accused of violating the student’s rights.
FOX 8 has chosen to withhold the mother’s name to protect the identity of the student. She told FOX 8 she sued in the hopes that something like this won’t happen to anyone else.
“What she did is order this teenage girl, this student, to strip down to her underwear — which, you can imagine how traumatizing that must be,” said the family’s attorney, Jared Klebanow of Cleveland.
The lawsuit claims one of the girl’s friends asked if she could stash the vape pen inside her gym locker and “feeling uncomfortable but afraid to upset her friend,” the girl begrudgingly agreed, he said.
“Word got around that somebody had a vape pen and the school decided that they were gonna try to find it,” Klebanow said.
Blaurock, the principal, later pulled the girl from her class to question her about the vape pen. Blaurock searched the girl’s gym and hallway lockers, but didn’t find anything.
“Blaurock, who subsequently admitted that [the girl] was an honest girl who had a history of being truthful with her, would not give up the search,” reads the civil complaint. “At that point, Blaurock had no reasonable cause to believe that the vape pen was on [the girl’s] person.”
Blaurock then took the girl to the nurse’s office and told the nurse’s aide, Rubertino, to search the girl’s person for the vape pen, according to the complaint.
The complaint claims Rubertino was never trained to conduct searches. Rubertino conferred by phone with the school’s nurse, Kuhlman, who was assigned to another building that day. Kuhlman allegedly told Rubertino to conduct a “body search” of the girl — but didn’t elaborate on what that meant.
“Rubertino hung up the phone and asked [the girl] to take off all of her clothes except her underpants” — all while Blaurock stood outside the office, the complaint reads.
The girl wasn’t given the option to leave or refuse the search, according to the complaint.
Rubertino didn’t find anything during the search. The aide then conferred with Blaurock before allowing the girl to put her clothes back on, according to the complaint.
” … At one point, she asked ‘can I put my clothes back on?’” said Klebanow. “[They] came back in, did a UV light of her, a check of her eyes to see if her eyes indicated any drug use and finally, after all that was done, permitted her to put her clothes back on.”
The lawsuit claims the district does not have a policy concerning strip searches of students. The middle school’s code of conduct manual for the 2022-23 school year states students’ lockers and cars are subject to random searches, but doesn’t make mention of personal searches.
A policy handbook found on the district’s website — last updated in 2013 — states searches in which students are required to remove clothing must be done by police officers.
Though the school has a resource officer, Blaurock didn’t request them, according to the lawsuit.
The girl was later suspended from school for allowing her classmate to stash the vape pen in her locker — though that device was never found, according to her family.
“Kuhlman has subsequently admitted that she would have never strip searched [the girl] in light of the circumstances presented,” reads the lawsuit. “Instead, Kuhlman stated that her prior procedure for conducting a search was to ask the student to hold their clothes tight to their skin and if an object becomes visible under the student’s clothes, ask the student to remove the item and hand it to her.”
The district superintendent also later admitted to the need to train employees on procedure for searches, “acknowledging that the strip search should not have occurred,” the complaint reads.
District officials declined to make a public statement on Thursday, due to the pending litigation.
The lawsuit brings four claims against the district, the principal, nurse and aide, alleging violations of constitutional rights including due process and improper searches and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The district is also accused of improperly training and supervising employees.
The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount in compensatory, exemplary and punitive damages.
“Searching a locker or book bag could be one thing, but subjecting a student to a strip search over something that causes no risk or harm to students or school property is unconstitutional and unacceptable,” said Klebanow.