The superintendent of a Wisconsin school district who personally searched female students for concealed vaping products has been charged with six counts of false imprisonment—a felony that can be punished with up to six years in prison and $10,000 for each count.
Oconto County District Attorney Edward Burke Jr. had previously declined to charge Superintendent Kelly Casper with conducting illegal strip searches, but reopened the case after widespread outrage over the incident. Burke said yesterday that the circumstances of the searches support the new charges against Casper.
“The State concludes that Kelly Casper lacked legal authority to confine the students in a small restroom located off the nurses office located in the Suring School Public School complex,” Burke said in a news release. “The facts and surrounding circumstances lead the State to conclude that the children involved did not consent to being confined.”
The searches were conducted after the girls were observed on security cameras leaving a school restroom. School officials suspected they had been vaping in the restroom. Casper instructed the girls individually to remove clothing except underwear, and searched them while a school nurse observed.
“Once the children removed their clothing, any opportunity they had to escape would have subjected them to further shame and embarrassment,” the district attorney said in a press release. The students were not allowed to call their parents (which isn’t required under Wisconsin law), or given the chance to leave without being searched. “The only choice they were given was to have the search conducted by a police officer or Casper,” he said.
The school nurse who witnessed the searches reported the incident to her supervisor the next day, explaining that she thought the searches had been inappropriate. The incident, which occurred in late January, happened on the nurse’s second day on the job, according to the Green Bay Press Gazette.
According to the Oconto County Sheriff’s Office report, a vape device fell out of the upper portion of one student’s bra during a search and landed on the floor. The police report said Casper told the student “that was ‘exactly’ what she was looking for.” Another girl was forced to remove clothing and be searched even after she admitted she was vaping and handed her device to Casper.
Suring Police Chief Kevin Schneider was brought into the school to search male students suspected of vaping, according to the Press Gazette.
Casper has held the Suring superintendent job since 2015. She told police these were the first searches she had conducted in Suring schools, but she had searched 20 students while working for the Coleman School District. She said she has had formal training on how to legally search students.
Madison-based civil rights lawyer Jeff Olson has been hired by several of the students’ parents, according to Green Bay TV station WBAY. Olson plans to sue the school district, claiming the students’ Fourth Amendment rights were violated.
“One of these students had given them their e-cigarette. They still went through with strip searches down to their underwear and bra,” Olson told WBAY. “I think that’s bound to be a highly traumatic experience for young teenage girls.”
The Suring school board will have a public meeting March 2 to discuss the situation. Suring is a village of fewer than 1,000 residents, about 50 miles northwest of Green Bay, in Oconto County. Suring High School has about 120 students.