Dog to give schools sniff test


POSTED: Sunday, April 19, 2009

A drug-sniffing dog will visit Roosevelt and McKinley high schools this week to meet students, a prelude to regular visits to detect alcohol and other contraband in common areas on campus.

But the dog will not be sniffing any student lockers - at least not yet. The Board of Education is still seeking public input before voting next month on whether to revise the student discipline code to allow random searches of lockers in public schools.






        Alcohol and drug offenses in schools have stayed relatively steady, at about 12 per school year.




*Year to date


Source: Roosevelt High School




        » Tuesday: 3:30 p.m., Roosevelt High School. Hearing on BOE proposals, including one to allow drug-sniffing dogs to inspect student lockers.

» Wednesday: 5:30 p.m. Roosevelt High School. School Community Council meeting to discuss its drug-use prevention efforts and a drug-sniffing dog program.


The idea has sparked an outcry from legal experts such as University of Hawaii law school professor Jon Van Dyke, who argues that searching lockers without reasonable cause for suspicion violates privacy rights guaranteed by the Hawaii and U.S. constitutions.

The Board of Education will hold a public hearing Tuesday at Roosevelt on sweeping changes to the statewide discipline code, including the new provision to allow locker searches.

Whitney White, owner of Interquest Detection Canines of Hawaii, will attend student assemblies at McKinley and Roosevelt on Wednesday with her golden retriever, which is trained to detect illicit drugs, alcohol and gunpowder. They will return at 5:30 p.m. for a School Community Council meeting.

“;The goal is to ensure a safe campus that is free and clear of drugs, alcohol and firearms,”; Roosevelt Principal Ann Mahi wrote in a letter to parents last week, inviting them to the meeting.

“;It's not about invading the privacy of students,”; she said Friday in an interview. “;It really is about the protection of the students. It's part of an entire prevention program.”;

Mahi hopes to start the drug-sniffing dog program in May, with searches limited to common areas. The cost is covered by a private donor. McKinley will inform parents soon of its start date, Vice Principal Lorene Suehiro said Friday.

Roosevelt and McKinley would be the first public schools to have the dog detective since a four-month pilot program in 2007 at three Maui public schools. “;Custer”; sniffed only common areas, not students themselves, their lockers or their cars. The dog turned up empty liquor bottles and traces of marijuana.

Academy of the Pacific became the first school in Hawaii to hire a drug-sniffing dog, in 2003, followed by Saint Louis School.

Mahi said she was moved to act because her school has managed to cut the number of incidents of student misconduct by more than 50 percent in the past few years, but alcohol and drug offenses have remained relatively steady. About 12 alcohol/drug incidents occur each year, on a campus of 1,460 students.

Misconduct cases overall have fallen to 109 in the last school year, down from 264 in 2005-06, with the biggest drops in disrespect, insubordination and disorderly conduct. She credited a concerted effort by the staff to set clear expectations and follow through with calls to parents and conferences with counselors.

While drug/alcohol offenses make up a small portion of the total, Mahi said she did not want the problem to escalate, and even one incident is “;too much for me.”;

Roosevelt would like to expand the program to student lockers as well, if the board approves the new discipline code, she said. But any such move would likely trigger lawsuits.

Many courts across the country have upheld student privacy rights in their school lockers, Van Dyke said. And Hawaii's constitution provides broader privacy protections than the U.S. Constitution, he noted.

Katherine Irwin, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa who specializes in juvenile delinquency, said schools would do better to put their resources into proven health-based programs to deter drug use. Drug-sniffing dogs “;don't meet our standards of effectiveness by any scientific study,”; she said.