BOE is on verge of drug-dog program
The Board of Education appears ready to allow drug-sniffing dogs in public schools through a less intrusive program requiring officials to have suspicion before using dogs to search students' lockers.
The board is expected to adopt some version of a drug-dog program when it meets at 6:30 p.m. today at the Molokai High School cafeteria.
There is still disagreement by members pushing to give schools the power to take the dogs wherever they want without the need to establish reasonable suspicion.
"I'm sure one of us will try to amend the wording to put back 'with or without cause,'" said board member Donna Ikeda. "If that's done, I will vote for it."
The issue has divided the board for months and stalled passage of the program.
Supporters of a blanket approach, like Ikeda, argue it is the only way to make sure principals can catch drug users before the problem gets out of hand. But critics point to opinions by legal experts who say locker sniffs without reason or cause violate students' privacy.
A board committee voted 5-4 last week to reverse a previous decision to permit dogs near lockers at any time. Under the current format, unannounced searches would be OK in common areas like cafeterias, gymnasiums and bushes, with students, lockers, backpacks, purses and vehicles being off limits.
School board member Garrett Toguchi welcomed the compromise, which is likely to draw the most votes from the 13-person board.
"I'm more comfortable than before," he said. "The dogs would be good to have on campuses just to create a perception that, at least in the common areas ... if drugs are detected ... we have a way to get at them."
The state Department of Education has been pressing for a drug-dog program after a golden retriever found traces of marijuana at all three Maui public schools it visited this spring during a pilot project. The department is seeking $300,000 from the Legislature to possibly launch a statewide program as early as the next school year.
If accepted by the school board, the proposal would still need to go to public hearings and receive Gov. Linda Lingle's signature before taking effect.
"She is supportive of the program. She has seen the test by the pilot program over on Maui and that it has been successful there," said Lingle's spokesman, Russell Pang.
James Toyooka, a former Kaimuki High School principal, said dogs trained to sniff drugs and alcohol would have helped him deal with students who were known for using substances at the Honolulu campus.
Toyooka, who now heads Nuuanu Elementary School, said school principals should be able to decide whether to bring dogs to their campuses after consulting with students' parents.
"You have to have an agreement with parents," he said. "A lot of parents don't like the invasion of privacy."
School board member Cec Heftel said he believes proponents of the dog program are blowing the drug issue out of proportion and that students would benefit more if the state invested its $300,000 initial cost into educational programs. He would support providing schools the option to use dogs if administrators felt they had a serious problem.
"It's a school judgment," he said. "I don't like it magnified and turned into a major project as though we have a major problem."