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Forced middle school STD testing draws lawsuit

From Shannon Troetel
CNN New York Bureau

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- School administrators forced several eighth-grade students to undergo tests for pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases after they attended a party, the New York Civil Liberties Union claimed in a lawsuit filed Tuesday with federal court in Manhattan.

"Our jaws just dropped when we heard what went on," Anna Schissel, an attorney with the NYCLU, told CNN. "This is such an invasion of privacy and due process issues."

Schissel said her clients -- 13- and 14-year-old female students -- skipped school April 11 to attend a party in the same Washington Heights neighborhood as their school, Intermediate School 164.

The clients, along with nine other students, were called into the principal's office soon afterward and told they had to be tested for pregnancy, STDs and HIV, and that they were suspended from school until they could provide doctor's notes with test results.

The principal suspected there might have been sexual activity at the party, Schissel said.

New York Schools Chancellor Joel Klein said he hadn't seen the lawsuit, which names the school's principal, Lavern Reid, and administrator Vera Hamburger as defendants.

"As in any lawsuit, there are two sides," Klein told reporters Tuesday. "Different people have different views of what happened and we will respond appropriately in court."

A Board of Education spokesman said the board would "never defend a policy where kids were not allowed to enter a school because they did not undergo these tests."

The Board of Education has been in touch with the defendants about the allegations, the spokesman said.

The 13-year-old plaintiff released a statement through her attorney which reads: "I knew that I was being punished, so I didn't think I had a choice when the principal told me I had to get all these medical tests, even though it didn't make sense to me. The tests were painful and embarrassing, and the principal told me that I couldn't even go to my regular clinic, that I had to go to a doctor I'd never met before. The whole experience was awful and really upsetting."

Dr. David Bell, an adolescent medicine specialist at New York Presbyterian Hospital, saw several of the students seeking notes.

"When you force teens to undergo intrusive medical procedures as punishment, you alienate them from the health care system and health providers they need to be able to rely on and trust in order to protect their well-being," Bell said.

No one at IS 164 could be reached for comment.

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