Oconto County District Attorney Edward Burke announced Monday that Suring Public Schools Superintendent Kelly Casper, 51, has been charged with six counts of false imprisonment following accusations that on Jan. 18, she made four of the girls strip down to their underwear in a school bathroom.
The other two students allegedly involved in the search claimed they weren’t wearing underwear, and said they had been permitted to keep their leggings on, according to court documents.
The imprisonment charges come after Burke previously said that an initial investigation into the searches did not find that administrators broke the law, but that by allegedly holding the students in the bathroom, Casper did violate a state code that bars school employees from confining students.
“The State concludes that Kelly Casper lacked legal authority to confine the students in a small restroom located off the nurses office located in the Suring School Public School complex,” Burke said in a news release. “The facts and surrounding circumstances leads the State to conclude that the children involved did not consent to being confined.”
Casper, suspecting the students of having vaping devices, allegedly directed the teens to a bathroom in the nurse’s office and told the nurse to assist by ensuring that no one who wasn’t involved in the search came into the area, according to court documents. The nurse told deputies that Casper offered for one of the students to be searched by police but that the student said she didn’t want “a cop” to search her.
Burke said that he had reviewed the statements and reports provided by the Oconto County Sheriff’s Department regarding the children who were strip-searched and learned that the superintendent had allegedly directed the kids to take off their clothes once in the bathroom and stood in the doorway while the girls were inside.
“None of the children involved were given the opportunity to leave,” Burke said. “The only choice they were given was to have the search conducted by a police officer or Casper.”
In interviews with deputies, one of the girls said she was “too scared to say no, because she thought she was going to get in trouble,”according to a criminal complaint obtained by the Greenbay Press-Gazette. Another allegedly said “she felt violated and that the school should have no right to search students the way they had with her.”
One mom described to deputies that her daughter “thought Superintendent Casper was going to just pat her down but she started at the waist band of her leggings and slid her hand down her leg.”
She said after her daughter told Casper she didn’t have a vape, the superintendent “threatened” to search her and had slid her hand “over her butt.”
Several of the students were also told to lift their bras away from their bodies—at times exposing their breasts, according to the complaint.
Raelene Helminger, the parent of a 16-year-old student who was searched, told WLUK-TV that she was relieved the school official has been charged.
“To have this finally brought charges with it today, it’s just an elation for all of us that these kids are being heard,” Helminger said.
The nurse accompanying the girls had started her job just a day before the bathroom searches and told police that she brought up the searches to a supervisor the next day because she felt they were inappropriate.
The nurse also told police that she was “most uncomfortable” with the searches, according to the complaint, and that Casper had not been demeaning to the girls. The nurse’s supervisor allegedly said she would reach out to the clinic’s legal team to open an investigation.
Casper told the girls they were “better than this,”and that they were “making bad choices.” Casper also told the kids that she “really cared about them” and their future, according to the nurse.
The Suring School Board did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment on Tuesday, but its president, Wayne Slater, told the Press-Gazette the board would share a statement concerning the incident at a special meeting on Wednesday.
Casper did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment on Tuesday, but the Press-Gazette reported that she has served as the Suring school district’s superintendent since 2015. Casper allegedly told officers she had completed training on searching students over the years and allegedly provided them with certificates on various trainings she had attended. She had conducted about 20 student searches while employed in another district, she allegedly said.
According to court documents, Casper claimed that school staff had informed her that one of the students was seen with a “blue vape” the day before the search, which she allegedly had been hiding under her shirt. She also told officers that the searches in January were her first at Suring and that she had learned to “never touch a child, never look at a child if they are nude.”
If convicted of all six counts, Casper faces up to 21 years in prison.
Helminger told the Press-Gazette that she hopes Casper will now be put on administrative leave.
“Our whole goal was to get her out of that school and away from our children,” Helminger said. “We’re hoping to see her put on administrative leave at the minimum or fired because she doesn’t belong there.”