Iowa high court to review open records case, re: Atlantic Strip Search


January 27th, 2012 by Ric Hanson

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) – The Iowa Supreme Court has agreed to consider whether the details of disciplinary cases against public employees should be available to citizens who ask.  The court on Thursday said it would review an October decision from the Iowa Court of Appeals, which ruled 2-1 that the Atlantic Community School District did not have to release the level of discipline taken against high school employees responsible for improperly strip-searching several teenage girls.   The court ruled that discipline cases were exempt from the state’s public records law except in the case of firings, dismissing a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa.  The group had argued the public’s need to know how an assistant principal and a guidance counselor were punished outweighed their privacy interests.

Atlantic School District Superintendent Dr. Michael Amstein told KJAN News today (Friday), that if the Iowa Supreme Court determines the matter needs to be determined at that level, he would “Certainly defer to the wisdom of the State Supreme Court to make that decision.” Amstein says “Other than that, all of arguments have already been made,” and right now they’ll just have to “Wait and see. I think that it’s an important case, but I think the district still stands on the orginal merits of that case, and we believe that employee discipline records are confidential.”

In August 2009, several girls were strip-searched in a locker room at the school after a classmate reported the theft of $100 from her purse. No money was found.  The district later issued a statement, saying, “After the investigation of all the facts involving the searches of several girls at the Atlantic High School several years ago, 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 also paid $300,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by the families of three girls who were subject to the strip search.