Jewish World Review August 9, 1999 /27 Av, 5759
The story began three years ago in East Stroudsburg, Pa. You may recall reading a bizarre story of sixth-grade girls having their genitals examined by a school-hired pediatrician at J.T. Lambert Intermediate School.
The girls, ages 11 and 12, didn't know they were going to be examined -- nor can anyone suggest a good reason why they should have been -- and were forced to disrobe and submit despite protests.
This was the first such exam for many of these girls, who were traumatized by the event. Most women recall their first gynecological exam with a certain horror, even if conducted under the best of the circumstances.
To be surprised -- at school no less -- by a strange doctor demanding to examine your most private parts is tantamount to sexual abuse.
Stories of girls crying, begging to call their mothers and tales of subsequent nightmares and crying spells have been heartbreaking. Nevertheless the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Department of Education defended the exams as "required by applicable laws and regulations."
Those laws and regulations, buried within the monolithic "Goals 2000: Educate America Act," call for health care for all students and, apparently, leave ample room for interpretation. That is, until last week when a federal court decided that the pediatrician in question and the East Stroudsburg Area School District violated the civil rights of eight sixth-grade girls.
In all, 59 girls were examined, but the parents of only eight of the girls filed a lawsuit. The ruling came in two parts: A jury determined that neither the girls nor the parents gave their consent to the exams, and U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo ruled that, absent a medical crisis, the exams violated the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibiting unreasonable search.
School officials maintained that they sought parental permission through take-home consent slips, some of which never were returned. But attorneys for the families argued that silence cannot be construed as consent. And sixth-graders aren't the most reliable couriers of paperwork.
It seems ridiculous that we need a federal judge and jury to tell us what should be obvious to anyone with an ounce of sense. In more reasonable times, schools provided nurses to tend to skinned knees and cut fingers. Now, under the ever-expanding guise of "protecting the children," we employ doctors to perform the most intimate procedures, with or without regard to parental wishes.
From whom are we protecting the children? Abusive parents? The ubiquitous sexually deviant live-in boyfriend? The pedophiliac stepfather? We've created so many societal demons lurking around every child's washbasin that we've become demons ourselves.
Yes, children need protection from abuse, and training teachers and school nurses to be vigilant is a good idea. But our good intentions have become outrageously intrusive and dangerous when routine health checks can be construed to require genital inspections of schoolchildren.
Jurors reconvene Thursday to decide what
compensation should be paid to the girls and their
families. Whatever the amount, let's hope it is sufficient
to keep educators mindful that parents, not bureaucrats,
are best suited to protect their
08/03/99: Unemployment? Not in this profession