Series of lawsuits center around strip searches

Friday, September 26, 2003

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Seven lawsuits have been filed against former teachers accused of strip-searching students at an elementary school last year.

Six of the suits, including one filed this week, have been filed in Jackson County Circuit Court. The seventh suit was filed in February in U.S. District Court.

The alleged incidents took place in March of last year at Pilcher Elementary School during a search for $5 in missing lunch money. The $5 was later found in a boy's restroom, but not as a result of the search.

Three of the Jackson County lawsuits are against Thomas L. Sims, of Blue Springs, who was a physical education teacher at the school, and the others are against Betty Bettis, who taught third grade there.

The Kansas City School District is not a defendant in any of those suits, but it was named in the federal court suit filed against Bettis.

The Jackson County lawsuits contend the searches were illegal and inflicted emotional distress. They ask for unspecified actual and punitive damages and also for judges to specify when, if ever, such searches can be used in the future.

Matthew O'Connor, who represents Bettis, said his client denied any wrongdoing.

"It's been a terribly difficult time for my client," he said. People are filing lawsuits to get money, he said, but at worst children were upset for a short period of time.

"Thus far I haven't seen anything that shows actual damages," O'Connor said.

The federal court lawsuit called the search "unreasonable" and "excessively intrusive," and accused the school district of inadequately training and supervising its employees. A school district spokesman declined comment Tuesday, and Sims could not be reached for comment.

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