STAR-BULLETIN / 2007
Whitney White's business, Interquest Detection Canines of Hawaii, was part of last year's pilot project using dogs like Custer to sniff out drugs in public schools on Maui.
Drugs return to school after dog departs
Drug confiscations have increased at a Maui public high school since a dog stopped randomly visiting the campus to sniff for substances, an area superintendent told the Board of Education yesterday in arguing to make the pilot project permanent.
So far this school year, there have been 19 drug offenses at Lahainaluna High, compared with two during the same time in the previous year, said Ron Okamura, superintendent of the Hana-Lahaina-Lanai-Molokai complex.
"I came away very impressed with what I saw," Okamura said of the overwhelming support he heard from parents and students about the dog program. "It has served a purpose as a deterrent."
This means the students are not afraid to bring their drugs to school now that the pilot project has ended, Okamura told the Committee on Special Programs yesterday in urging expansion of the program.
But that depends on the Legislature granting the Department of Education's request for $300,000 -- or individual schools agreeing to pay for the dog searches out of their budgets for the next school year.
The school board voted in November to expand the pilot project, which was funded through donations. The program still needs to be discussed in public hearings and receive Gov. Linda Lingle's approval before it can begin.
During the program, a golden retriever visited Lahainaluna High and Kalama and Lahaina intermediate schools about six or seven times from February through May. It came unannounced and 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.
The dog's presence, Okamura said, gave students a reason to "say no" to classmates who pressure them to experiment or buy drugs.
But Jeanne Ohta, executive director of the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, said the program did not prevent students from using or bringing drugs to campus once the dog was gone.
"An effective program is supposed to reduce drug use in the long term," she said.
Ohta and other critics of the searches, including the American Civil Liberties Union -- which contends they violate students' privacy -- have testified against the initiative. They have been urging the board to instead consider programs that scientific studies have shown reduce substance abuse by students.
School board members at yesterday's meeting asked the Department of Education for more information about the program to help principals decide whether they would like to have it on their campuses.