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Clinton third-grader strip-searched after being accused of stealing

The mother of a Clinton third-grader says an assistant principal went too far when she strip-searched him after accusations that he stole from another student.

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CLINTON, N.C. — The mother of a Clinton third-grader says a school administrator went too far when she strip-searched her child after accusations that he stole from another student.

Clarinda Cox says her 10-year-old son, Justin, a student at Union Elementary School, was ordered to take off everything but his T-shirt and boxer shorts on June 1 after a girl accused him of taking $20.

Justin told his mother that a girl dropped the money in the cafeteria and that he picked it up and gave it back to her, Cox says.

"If I felt he needed to be searched, I would have brought him into the bathroom," she said Monday. "You could have had a witness in the bathroom with me. I would have searched my son."

The assistant principal, Teresa Holmes, says in a statement that several other students, as well as two teachers, told her that the money was missing and that they had seen Justin dive under the lunchroom table for it.

Holmes, a 28-year educator, says she told Justin that, if he had the money, he should return it to the girl or that she would have to search him.

"Justin said that he did not have the money and to ‘search me,’" Holmes said, adding that the boy, over the course of the school year, had lied many times.

When she did not find the money on Justin, she said, she hugged him, apologized and talked to him about the importance of having a good reputation.

The money was "miraculously" found on the floor, Holmes said, adding that a teacher said it was not there before the search.

"Any staff member who has ever worked with me knows that I care for my students and that even when I have to discipline them, I love them," she said.

Cox says she is not only upset about her son being searched but also that no one notified her about it. She said she found out about it from Justin when he came home from school that day upset.

"I was furious," she said.

Sampson County Schools spokeswoman Susan Warren says Cox should have been informed about the search but that Holmes did nothing wrong and that a male janitor was present for the search.

"The assistant principal was within her legal authority, her legal right, to do the search," Warren said. "She may have been overzealous in her actions."

Cox says that, with or without an apology, her son was violated.

"She came up to him and rubbed her fingers around inside of his underwear," Cox said. "If that isn't excessively intrusive, I don't know what is."


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