STAR-BULLETIN / DECEMBER 2004
Custer, a drug-sniffing dog, was recently used at Kalama and Lahaina intermediate schools on Maui. He is shown here in a demonstration in which he found a bottle of gin in a locker.
Dog sniffs for drugs at 2 Maui schools but finds only spilled beer
Two Maui public schools that became the first in the state to allow a drug-sniffing dog on campus are praising the unannounced canine visits, saying it could benefit all island schools.
No substances were found by Custer, a 6-year-old golden retriever, at Kalama and Lahaina intermediate schools.
"It went really smoothly," said Lahaina Principal Marsha Nakamura, whose school has about 580 students. "I think it would be a great thing statewide. Influences from outside in our community, they do come into our schools. Nobody is really guaranteed to be safe."
Kalama Principal John Costales said because several organizations hold meetings at the school's cafeteria, dog searches can help ensure the campus is clean when about 930 sixth- through eighth-graders return to class on Mondays.
During the first search at Kalama on Feb. 1, the dog was able to smell alcohol from beer bottles that custodians found by the school's wood shop earlier that day. Custer made another surprise visit at the school on Tuesday.
"It was amazing that he picked up that someone had spilled beer in that area," Costales said.
When the state Department of Education announced it would launch a pilot project to use dogs as a way to deter drugs, alcohol and firearms, the American Civil Liberties Union warned that the random searches could violate students' rights.
But parent and student reaction to the program has been positive, the Maui principals said, adding they have not heard any privacy complaints.
The unannounced searches are allowed only in common areas like cafeterias, gymnasiums and bushes, with individual students, lockers, backpacks, purses and vehicles being off limits.
The program should last a few more months, and there are no plans yet to expand it to other isle schools.
"We are still in the evaluation stages. It would be a little early to talk too much on that," said department spokesman Greg Knudsen.
Other public schools planning to allow drug-sniffing dogs on campus are Lahainaluna High and Lanai High and Elementary. Hawaii and Alaska are the only two states in the nation lacking comprehensive dog-search programs at public schools, said Whitney White, owner of Interquest Detection Canines of Hawaii, which is running the pilot program on Maui.
The project does not cost the DOE money, and Interquest relies on donations to conduct the searches.
The nonprofit agency, which conducts frequent dog-searches at the private Saint Louis School and the Academy of the Pacific on Oahu, would be ready to serve all Hawaii public schools if needed, Whitney said.