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County Settles Lawsuit Over 2004 School Strip Searches

CHESTERTOWN, Md. -- Two Kent County students who were strip searched in a 2004 school raid have won $285,000 in damages and written apologies from the school system and sheriff's office.

The settlement announced Monday ends the lawsuit over a drug search at Kent County High School in Worton, where drug-sniffing dogs were used and more than a dozen students were searched. No drugs were found.

Two of the students -- Heather Gore and Jessica Bedell -- sued over the strip searches. The Maryland chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union took their case.

The school system has agreed to pay $67,500 to Gore and $57,500 to Bedell. The Kent County Sheriff's Department has agreed to pay the pair $160,000.

"It's a real testament to the strength of these two young women who took a stand against excessive police involvement in their school," said ACLU Legal Director Deborah Jeon.

Jeon said settlement talks have been going on all summer but were finalized last week.

In an ACLU statement, Gore said she hoped her lawsuit would give other students courage to stand up for their rights.

"Hopefully, this experience will help students realize that they can defend their rights, and also see that there are people to support and help vindicate them even in situations where it seems as though you're taking on the impossible," said Gore, who was 15 at the time of the raid.

During the raid, 250 book bags in 12 classrooms were scanned by drug-sniffing dogs. Gore said she was forced to remove her skirt and lift her tank top. She also said an officer checked her underwear.

As part of the settlement, the Kent County School Board issued an apology saying "mistakes were made."

"The board apologizes to Ms. Gore and Ms. Bedell for any discomfort, embarrassment, adverse educational impact, or any other harm that they suffered ... and wishes only the best of success to them in their future endeavors," the apology read.

Kent County Superintendent Anthony Pack did not comment beyond the apology statement.

Gore and Bedell also received written apologies from the sheriff's department.

"The sheriff's office acknowledges that Ms. Gore and Ms. Bedell were not found to be in possession of any illegal substances, or in violation of any law or regulation," that apology read.

In a written statement, Bedell said, "I'm very happy with the school's cooperation and apology, which makes me hopeful that it will not happen again to anyone."

Jeon said the school system has not performed any similar drug searches since the 2004 incident.

Bedell and Gore are now enrolled in college, a spokeswoman for the ACLU said Monday.

Posted by: SoulRiser
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Posted in: News by NewsBot on August 10, 2007 @ 12:00 AM

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