Schools keep drug-sniffing dog busy
A project finds traces of marijuana at three Maui public schools
A drug-sniffing dog found traces of marijuana at all three Maui public schools it visited this spring, and the pilot program might be expanded if evidence shows that it helps deter drug use.
"I'm looking for an evaluation and, if it's a positive one, to see if we can expand and bring it to the big city of Honolulu," Board of Education member John Penebacker said yesterday.
The program involved unannounced visits by Whitney White, owner of Interquest Detection Canines of Hawaii, and her golden retriever to Kalama Intermediate, Lahaina Intermediate and Lahainaluna High schools. Each school was visited six or seven times from February through May.
The dog sniffed only public areas of the schools, not student lockers or belongings. Most finds were made in vegetation around playing fields and courts, and included small plastic bags with marijuana residue or empty cans or bottles of beer or whiskey.
No effort was made to tie finds to individual students, and White acknowledged that some of the debris might have been left by people hanging out on campus after school hours.
She advocated expanding the searches to students' cars, lockers and backpacks, saying that is where most finds are usually made. The board is considering amending the state discipline code to allow searches of student lockers without reasonable cause, but it deferred discussion on that question yesterday.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii, the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii and a University of Hawaii sociologist testified against the canine program. They urged the board to instead consider programs that scientific studies have shown actually reduce substance abuse by students.
"Students need to be educated wisely through proven prevention programs rather than through scare-tactics and suspicionless invasions of their privacy." said Laurie Temple, ACLU staff attorney. "Educators are already permitted to conduct searches based on evidence of wrongdoing."
Committee Chairwoman Mary Cochran, who has championed the canine project, asked the Department of Education to assess the pilot program at the committee's next meeting.
White, who conducted the pilot program at no charge, argued that the dog helps students resist peer pressure.
"The canine gives the students a reason to say no," she said. "The student can say, 'Who knows when that dog is going to show up?'"
But Katherine Irwin, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Hawaii, said having a drug-sniffing dog allows educators to appear to be doing something about drug use, but "there's no evidence that it works." She said educators should instead choose a "Best Practices Program" that targets the causes of drug use and helps build strong, resilient students.
"Drug-sniffing dogs is an aspirin," she said. "It gets rid of the headache, but it's not a cure."