Child Protective Services officials in Kentucky have paid $515,000 to a homeschool family to settle a court case involving a strip-search of all six children in their home.
The settlement comes five years after a CPS investigator and sheriff’s deputy subjected the children of Josiah and Holly Curry to a harrowing strip-search in 2017 after threatening Holly with taking her children into state custody.
No wrongdoing was ever officially acknowledged, and the CPS investigation of the family was eventually closed.
“I was terrified that one wrong move and they were going to remove all the children,” Holly said in a Facebook video posted in 2018. “To me, it seemed like they were searching for a reason to take the children.”
The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) persuaded the Currys to file a federal civil rights case against CPS, saying the strip-search was “without cause” and violated the family’s Fourth Amendment rights.
The Currys “could have simply moved on,” wrote HSLDA president Jim Mason in a recent email. “Instead, they willingly agreed to a years-long process that required them to relive that day over and over again: while preparing the complaint, answering written questions, preparing to be grilled by opposing counsel during depositions, awaiting the court’s decision about whether the case could go to trial, and finally, enduring two rounds of settlement negotiations.”
Grocery stop turns into confrontation
Holly Curry had left her children inside her car for a few minutes while buying muffins from a local grocery store. When she returned to the car, two policemen informed her that they were required to notify CPS, even though she had not broken any law.
As her husband was away on a business trip, Holly was alone with her children the next day when a CPS investigator came. Holly said the investigator provided no credentials, had no warrant, and began yelling at her to open the door, which she refused to do.
The investigator then left and returned with a sheriff’s deputy.
“My expectation of a police officer arriving – prior to his arrival – had been that he was going to be an unbiased person that was going to be there to protect my rights as a parent, and that’s not what happened at all,” Holly said.
After she said both officials threatened her with an emergency custody order to remove all her children, she let them into her home.
The CPS investigator privately interviewed Holly’s oldest daughter, then strip-searched all six children, including Holly’s daughters, in front of the male police officer.
“It’s pretty traumatic for a stranger to pull infants away from a mother and not immediately give them back, and instead proceed to remove their clothes and diaper,” Holly said in the video.
Holly said the visit inflicted continuing trauma onto her family.
“I’m afraid that if they go outside to play, to take a break, that I’m going to receive a visit from CPS,” Holly said.
Earlier court case in 1999
HSLDA helped the Currys present their case against CPS, and a federal judge ruled in 2020 that witness documents and depositions supported sending the case to trial by jury.
What the Currys experienced, HSLDA’s Mason wrote, was “eerily similar” to another case HSLDA represented in 1999 when a California CPS investigator strip-searched the children of Shirley Calabretta after receiving a weeks-old anonymous report.
Mason had heard Calabretta recounting her experience at the 2020 Capitol Day of Christian Home Educators of California.
“When she got to the part where the CPS investigator told her older daughter to pull down the pants of a younger child, it was as if she could see it happening all over again,” Mason wrote.
Thanks in part to HSLDA’s work, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco ruled in 1999 that the Calabretta search had been unconstitutional.
“The courage of Shirley Calabretta to pursue the lawsuit laid the groundwork for HSLDA to help thousands of families navigate these distressing encounters over the two-and-a-half decades since her horrible day,” Mason wrote.
“While the bulk of our legal work involves helping homeschoolers stand strong when school officials step out of line, an important aspect of our work for almost 40 years has been protecting the home from unlawful entry and children from the trauma caused by violations of the kind the Calabretta and Curry children suffered.”