Conley Elementary School students were asked to strip to their underwear Thursday so their fifth-grade teacher could search their clothing for money missing from a classroom fund, said Chandler Unified School District spokesman Terry Locke.
Teacher Linda Christian, who has been with the district since 1993, was reassigned to work from home pending an investigation by the district.
"There was no evidence of any issue of exposure or a strip search or any patting down," Locke said.
Christian asked for students to volunteer to remove their clothing one at a time in the nurse’s office, Locke said. Each student, while covered up with a blanket or towel, then handed their clothing to Christian to be searched.
Locke said 10 of the approximately 25 students in the class volunteered to allow their clothing to be searched.
However, the mother of a student in Christian’s class disagreed with that assessment.
"There were no volunteers, every one was asked to do it," said the mother, who is not being named to protect her son’s identity. "Otherwise, my son would’ve never done it."
The mother said her son was shaken and embarrassed by the incident, which she said was over $20 missing from a pizza party fund.
The school nurse assisted the children with the disrobing, she said, and one student who refused to be searched was sent to detention.
Two parents were called to the school to assist in the search after their children started crying, the mother said.
Locke, who said $10 to $20 was missing, said no money was found in the clothing.
Chandler police detective George Arias said the department has received no calls about the incident from the school district or parents.
"If the school district has any inclination of an indiscretion that’s possibly criminal in nature, they need to call us," Arias said.
School board member Charlotte Patterson said she was shocked and concerned for the students who she said may have been emotionally injured or embarrassed.
"Whatever it was, if it actually happened, it shouldn’t have," Patterson said. "Things like that should never happen. I feel very comfortable this whole situation will be carefully investigated and the facts will come out.
"It might not have been such an extreme to warrant dismissal. But I can guarantee you and any parent that we take things very seriously."
She applauded any student who reports an uncomfortable incident. "I hope it wasn’t as bad as it might have been," she said. "Or that somehow we can help the children to realize that whatever it was that was done, that they were right to report it if they were uncomfortable for it. Maybe somehow we can make it up to them. But I doubt it."
Eleanor Eisenberg, executive director of the Arizona chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the student search was unconstitutional and "grossly inappropriate. Asking them to strip is ridiculous," she said. "They shouldn’t be asked to do that."