Binghamton, New York: Allegations that four black 12-year-old girls were strip searched at a school should be investigated at state level, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo says.
He said the allegations were “deeply disturbing” and raised “serious issues of racial and gender bias”.
The girls and their parents say the school nurse and assistant principal searched them believing they had drugs.
Local education authorities question whether a strip search took place, but have hired a firm to investigate.
“Asking a child to remove her clothing – and then commenting on her body – is shaming, humiliating, traumatic sexual harassment,” Mr Cuomo said in a statement.
“In New York we have zero tolerance for discrimination or harassment of any kind,” he added on Twitter.
The Progressive Leaders of Tomorrow, which campaigns for deprived communities, said the girls had been searched after appearing “hyper and giddy” during their lunch hour on 15 January.
The group said the girls’ parents had not been contacted until after the alleged searches and had not given consent.
Local radio station WSKR quoted one of the girls as saying that she had been asked first to pull down her trousers and then to pull down the leggings she had on underneath.
“My leggings were tight. And she was like, ‘can you pull them down a little bit for me?’ So I pulled them down under my knees,” the girl said, speaking after a meeting this month between community members and school officials.
The mother of one of the girls said her daughter had been detained for more than an hour, the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin reported.
Earlier this month, school officials said the girls had undergone a medical evaluation, which could involve them removing bulky outer clothing to expose an arm so blood pressure and pulse could be monitored.
“This is not the same as a strip search,” school officials said.
In a subsequent statement this week, East Middle School said there was “no evidence” a strip search had taken place but that it had hired investigators to make a “full and objective assessment”, the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin reported.
Image: The East Middle School in the city of Binghamton has said there was “no evidence” of a strip search