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Allegations that four black middle school girls in upstate New York were strip-searched has sparked calls for a state investigation.
The four 12-year-old students and their parents say the girls were questioned and forced to disrobe by the assistant principal and school nurse at East Middle School in Binghamton on Jan. 15 on suspicion of drug possession because they were acting "giddy."
The school district announced this week that it has hired an independent firm to review the allegations.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday also addressed the matter, saying he has asked the State Department of Education to investigate the claims. He also raised the question of whether race was a factor.
"The allegations that 12-year-old girls were strip-searched for drugs after being perceived as 'hyper and giddy' at a Binghamton middle school are deeply disturbing and raise serious concerns of racial and gender bias," Cuomo said in a statement.
Binghamton, a city in the middle of the state, has a population of a little more than 45,000 that is 75 percent white, according to the most recent U.S. Census data.
The alleged incident sparked a protest outside the school Tuesday night, with a rally organized by Progressive Leaders of Tomorrow, a Binghamton organization that advocates for marginalized communities. The group said the girls' parents did not give consent for the searches and were not contacted until afterward.
Although the school district announced a third-party firm will conduct an independent investigation, it maintains there is no evidence of a strip search.
"It must be reiterated, we have no evidence that a strip search was conducted by administration," the school district said. "We only turn to medical assessment if we find clear reason to be concerned for our students’ safety and health, which is what occurred in this instance."
At a school board meeting last week, the board said that “misinformation” had been spread via social media, and that the students had been evaluated, which can require a person to remove “bulky outside clothing to expose an arm so that vitals like blood pressure and pulse can be accessed.”
The school district said the four girls were not suspended or punished and were allowed to return to class after being evaluated. The district also said that parents were contacted on Jan. 15.
“The Binghamton City School District should never have stated ‘no students were strip-searched,’ solely due to an assumed lack of evidence — especially before the criminal, state or independent investigation has been concluded,” the Progressive Leaders of Tomorrow told NBC News on Wednesday. “The first-hand accounts of the four victims are evidence, both legally and morally, and we stand behind these girls 100 percent.”