Drug-sniffing canine in school

He may look like a friendly pooch, but the presence of a 4-year-old black Lab called Puma at Penncrest High and Springton Lake Middle School will send a clear signal to students that Rose Tree Media District will not tolerate drugs in its schools.

The district is revising its policy on school searches to authorize canine searches of student lockers and student parking areas. The revised policy is aimed at safeguarding the health and safety of students and staff by reducing or discouraging the presence of drugs, as well as controlled substances, non-authorized medications, alcohol or weapons.

Interquest Canine Services, a national firm with a regional office, will provide a trained drug-sniffing dog to aid Rose Tree Media in enforcing its zero-tolerance policy. It will be the first school district in Delaware County to utilize canine searches, according to Interquest Canine Services owner/dog handler Stephanie Kramer.

“It’s a deterrent. It does work,” said Kramer about the canine searches.

She said the idea to use a trained dog in certain situations at the two schools originated with district Superintendent Dr. Denise Kerr. Before coming to RTM, Kerr was assistant superintendent for the Council Rock School District, which utilizes canine searches.

“We are bringing the program here to Rose Tree Media to send a serious message to our students and to our community that we will not tolerate drugs in our schools,” Kerr said. “The superintendent and school board feel strongly that this program will go a long way toward helping students understand the serious implications of drug abuse.”

To detect illegal substances, Puma is trained to sniff the air around vehicles, lockers, desks, book bags, backpacks, purses and other inanimate items that are on school property or at a school district sponsored event. The dog will not be used to search students.

The revised policy states that all lockers, desks and parking are the property of the school district. Book bags, backpacks, purses and other such objects are permitted in school and at events sponsored by the school district, as long as they are used for legitimate purposes.

The school district reserves the right to authorize its employees to inspect a student’s locker, vehicle, desk, and any personal item to determine whether it’s being improperly used for the storage of contraband or illegal substance. As a result, the policy says students should have no expectation of privacy regarding their lockers, desks or personal property while on school property or a district sponsored event.

Students are encouraged to keep their assigned lockers as well as other inanimate objects closed and locked against incursion by other students.

Random inspection by the search dog, at the discretion of the school administrator, may or may not be announced. Prior to a locker or vehicle search, the student will be notified and given an opportunity to be present. The school principal or representative is to be present whenever a student locker or vehicle is inspected.

Valerie Burnett, district director of pupil services, said the procedure would not be disruptive to the education process. Unlike at some schools, there would be no “lock down” and school would go on as usual.

She noted violators of the policy would be subject to firm disciplinary action. Also, in every instance, the violator will be referred to the district’s student assistance program.

In preparation for the approval of the revised policy and canine searches, last summer a “clean sweep” of all empty school lockers was conducted. Burnett said no problems were found.

The proposed revised policy received its first reading at the school board’s Sept. 22 meeting. A second reading is scheduled for the Oct. 27 meeting. In the meantime, there will be student assemblies and parent information sessions.

Following the second reading, the revised policy is expected to be adopted and will be effective immediately.

Source: delcotimes.com April 2004

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