Three women training to be ultrasound technicians say they were reprimanded after objecting to their school’s practice of having sonography students perform weekly transvaginal ultrasounds on each other. They’re suing Valencia College, a public school in Florida, for violating their Fourth and First Amendment rights.
The suit argues that the penetrative vaginal exams — which are done to diagnose certain reproductive conditions — were said in orientation to be voluntary, but were required in practice.
When two students told administrators that they didn’t feel comfortable participating in the exams, the former program chair “told them they could find another school if they did not wish to be probed,” according to court documents. The students allege that lab employees threatened to lower their grades and blacklist them at local hospitals. The program also included anatomically correct simulators and clinical practice at hospitals.
Two of the students eventually agreed to the weekly procedure and a male student performed probes on them, as did their female classmates. The third did not participate. She claims that she received two failing grades and was yelled at for an hour until she had a panic attack.
All three women dropped out of the program and are suing the school on the basis that being forced to have an ultrasound constitutes an unreasonable search and retaliation for their complaints was a violation of their right to free speech. (Their legal team can make such arguments because the college is a public, not private, institution.)
The students first filed a lawsuit last year seeking compensatory and punitive damages, but it was thrown out. Last week, a federal appeals court said the suit could go forward. The school halted the peer ultrasound practice in May 2015, citing “the distraction of the current controversy.”