Ms. T, aged 48 years, was the nurse at a public elementary school. She’d been at this particular school for the past 6 years and at another school for 5 years before that. The job was fairly uneventful and mainly involved patching up skinned knees, making sure that kids weren’t being sent to school with the flu, and assessing minor ailments.
In the 6 years that Ms. T had been at this school, there had been only one real emergency, a broken leg. Ms. T never imagined that she would end up being sued over an alleged violation of the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches.
The incident began on a Tuesday, when J, a 6-year old student, complained of irritation in her genital area and said it “burned” during urination. The complaint was reported to the school’s secretary, Ms. P, who called J’s mother and left a message regarding the girl’s complaint. The mother called back that afternoon and informed the school that J had a history of chronic bladder infections.
Two days later, J came to the school office with the same complaint. Ms. P took the girl to the school’s clinic to wait for the arrival of Ms. T. In the meantime, Ms. P called the girl’s mother again and left a message. When Ms. T arrived at the school, she was informed of J’s complaints, including that the girl had pain while urinating, had trouble sitting, and was “walking funny.”
Ms. T spoke reassuringly to the little girl and told her that they would need to take a look to see what the trouble was. The nurse, accompanied by the school secretary, took the child to a private bathroom used only by teachers.
Ms. T asked J to pull down her pants and underwear, and performed a visual check for red or irritated areas along the legs and inner thighs that could be causing discomfort. Seeing nothing unusual, Ms. T asked the child to spread her labia in order to visually check for redness. Nothing was readily apparent, so Ms. T asked J to dress again, wrote a note to the girl’s parents, and continued working as usual.