10th-Grade Girl Strip-Searched at School, Father Says, and 20 Others Expelled

On October 7, 2022, 14-year-old Francesca Mani was suspended from Westfield Public Schools in New Jersey for the rest of the year. The sophomore at Westfield High School had allegedly participated in a bathroom fight and a subsequent social media feud, prompting a police investigation and her eventual expulsion.

According to NBC New York, Francesca's father, Dorota Mani, said that his daughter was falsely accused and that the school had violated her rights by searching her purse without permission. He added that the search was inappropriate and that the situation could have been handled differently.

Mani told The New York Times that Francesca was strip-searched in the school nurse's office, though school officials denied that a strip search took place.

At a recent school board meeting, Mani and other parents challenged the school's handling of the incident. They argued that the punishment of permanently excluding 20 students was too severe and that the school had failed to protect the girls involved.

Westfield Public Schools declined to comment on the specific case but confirmed the October incident and the subsequent expulsions.

“Westfield High School took prompt and appropriate action to address the incident, ensure justice for all parties involved, and maintain a safe, supportive, and respectful school environment for all students,” the district said in a statement.

“We uphold the right of students and their parents to due process and privacy, and we are committed to ensuring that any ongoing investigations are conducted with integrity and confidentiality,” the statement added.

Mani said that his daughter and the other girls who were expelled are considering legal action against the school. He argued that the school should implement a restorative justice program instead of issuing expulsions, which he said disproportionately affect students of color.

According to the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics, from the 2017-18 school year, Westfield High School had a total enrollment of 1,142 students. Of those, 1,084, or 93.3 percent, were white, 26, or 2.3 percent, were Black, and 22, or 1.9 percent, were Hispanic or Latino.

Ten students were suspended for one year, and 10 others were suspended for a shorter period, according to an email sent by the school to parents on October 6, 2022. The school said it would provide no additional information — due to student confidentiality — about what transpired.

But according to NBC, the fight began when two groups of girls got into an argument at a football game on October 4 and then continued their feud on social media. The fight reportedly took place in a bathroom, captured on video, with at least one student suffering an injury.

The Westfield Police Department said that several students were questioned, and at least one was cited and released to their parents.

At the board meeting, some parents argued that the school should have done more to de-escalate the situation and protect the girls involved instead of punishing them for fighting.

A current 10th-grade student, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect her privacy, said that the feud began over sexual harassment claims. She said she felt the school had failed to address the underlying issues and instead had punished the victims.

Another parent, who attended the meeting with her daughter, said that the school needed to “hold everyone accountable” but also ensure that the girls involved felt safe returning to campus.

The parent, who also asked not to be identified, said that her daughter, a ninth-grader, was in one of the bathrooms when the fight occurred and said she was concerned about the school's handling of the situation.

“No one should feel unsafe at school, and I want to make sure that they take measures to address it,” the parent said.

At the meeting'.

The New York Times (NYT) is an American newspaper based in New York City and founded in 1851. It has won 112 Pulitzer Prizes, more than any other news organization, and has long been regarded within the industry as a ?newspaper of record.'

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