Vote limits drug-dog searches on campus
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A Board of Education committee decided yesterday to confine its drug-sniffing dog program mainly to common areas of campuses, reversing a previous approval of random searches of lockers.
In a 5-4 vote, the board's Special Programs Committee required school officials to establish suspicion before taking a drug-sniffing dog near lockers and opening them for inspection.
Those voting in favor of the proposal were concerned about the privacy rights of students.
If adopted by the school board, the unannounced dog searches would only be OK in places like cafeterias, gymnasiums and bushes, with students' belongings being off limits.
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Public schools would need suspicion to open or search students' lockers with a drug-sniffing dog, a Board of Education committee narrowly decided yesterday after being warned that random checks would violate privacy rights.
In a 5-4 vote, the board's Special Programs Committee reversed its previous approval of a proposed blanket drug-dog program for all Hawaii campuses.
The changes to the dog program are part of sweeping revisions to the student conduct code also known as Chapter 19. Before taking effect, the rules would need to be adopted by the full school board, go to public hearings and receive Gov. Linda Lingle's signature.
The state Department of Education has been pushing for the drug-dog initiative after a golden retriever found traces of marijuana at all three Maui public schools it visited this spring during a pilot project.
The unannounced searches are allowed only in common areas like cafeterias, gymnasiums and bushes, with students, lockers, backpacks, purses and vehicles being off limits.
The Education Department is asking the Legislature for $300,000 to launch a statewide program.
State Rep. Roy Takumi, House Education Committee chairman, said he favors efforts to have schools partner with parents to prevent student drug use.
"I'm not opposed to it, but we always have to realize that every dollar we spend on, say, this is another dollar not available for other educational needs," said Takumi (D, Pearl City-Pacific Palisades). "Where is the parental responsibility when it comes to suspected contraband or drug use of their own children? That to me is an arena we ought to look at."
Last month the school board committee voted 7-4 to adopt random dog sniffs and locker searches despite objections from experts and groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii.
But on Oct. 4 the full board, worried about legal implications of a random program, voted to send the matter back to committee, which has been consulting with the state attorney general's office.
It is unclear when the full board will take up the program again. Lingle has said she is waiting for the board to decide on a final language before taking sides.
Board member John Penebacker, who supports the random searches, said yesterday's vote "watered down" the planned program.
"If you do bring in a canine, it can only sniff the general ... areas, and there's no way they can go in to lockers unless it is a specific locker with some cause to go in there," said Penebacker, who hopes the full board will reconsider the random approach. "It's not over yet."