Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of two Wisconsin children who were strip-searched by a state social worker at a private Christian school. In Michael C. v. Gresbach, the appeals court panel unanimously ruled that the social worker, Dana Gresbach, violated the Fourth Amendment rights of the children to be free from an unreasonable search.
The eight-year-old boy, his nine-year-old sister and their parents are represented by Stephen Crampton, Vice President of Legal Affairs and General Counsel for Liberty Counsel, and Wisconsin attorney Michael D. Dean.
The court stated that "it is a violation of a child’s constitutional rights to conduct a search of a child at a private school without a warrant or probable cause, consent, or exigent circumstances." The court held the social worker personally responsible for violating the students’ rights, because the law in this area is so clear that she should have known her actions were unconstitutional. Although the school principal allowed the social worker to interview the students, the social worker never even mentioned that she intended to require the children to remove their clothing. In addition, the social worker refused to allow the principal to contact the parents before the interview or to be present when she forced the children to strip.
The case arose when social services received a bogus report of suspected abuse from the sister of the estranged father of the children, who did not like that the children were spanked. A previous report of suspected abuse by the same aunt two weeks earlier was dismissed out of hand.
Gresbach was an employee of the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare. In a previous case, Doe v. Heck, the Bureau was found to have violated the constitutional rights of a child at a private Christian school, and also the rights of the school and the child’s parents under remarkably similar circumstances. Crampton and Dean also represented the parents in that case.
Decades ago, the United States Supreme Court emphatically ruled that the child is not the mere creature of the state. Unfortunately, social workers repeatedly ignore that fact and routinely trample parents' rights under the guise of protecting the children. This ruling sends the message that the Constitution is still in effect protecting law-abiding families from the overreaching arm of the state, both in the home and in private schools.