Atlantic School Officials admit fault in Strip search case


September 20th, 2011 by Ric Hanson

A statement was released this (Tuesday) morning by Atlantic Community School District Business Manager Mary Beth Fast regarding the a settlement in the strip search lawsuit.  The statement reads quote “After the investigation of all the facts involving the searches of several girls at the Atlantic High School several years ago (Aug. 2009), the Atlantic Community School District has determined that the searches violated the school’s policy and state law regarding school searches. The school district acknowledges that the involved girls did nothing wrong.”

The district’s attorney, Gregory Barntsen of Council Bluffs, declined to elaborate or discuss any financial terms of the settlement. The statement, according to Barton, is what both parties agreed to be issued as a press release, and  is part of the recently settled lawsuit that followed the search. The families of three of the searched girls filed it in 2010 against the district and two school officials involved in the incident. Iowa law bans strip-searches of students by school employees.
The plaintiffs alleged that Paul Croghan, then Atlantic High School’s assistant principal and athletic director, ordered guidance counselor Heather Turpin to search five female students after another student reported $100 missing.  Court documents indicate Turpin had at least four of the girls individually strip to varying degrees in a locker room while Croghan waited in an adjacent room. No money was found. Croghan resigned in November 2009. He is now the principal and athletic director of East Mills High School in Malvern. Turpin remains a guidance counselor in Atlantic, according to the school district’s website. The families had alleged, among other things, that the girls’ state and federal rights against unreasonable searches had been violated.

In related news, the ACLU of Iowa’s related open records case has reached the Iowa Court of Appeals. The civil-rights organization says the case will be argued Thursday. The American Civil Liberties Union has been trying to find out what discipline, if any, was imposed on school officials involved in the search. The organization lost its bid in district court, but appealed.