Pubdate: Thu, 20 Dec 2001
Source: Register-Guard, The (OR)
Copyright: 2001 The Register-Guard
Author: Matt Cooper, The Register-Guard
Bookmark: (Youth)


SPRINGFIELD - Drug-detecting dogs may become part of the drug
prevention program in Springfield schools.

The district's superintendent likes the idea. Thurston High School's
principal has studied the concept. And parent Dani Wright brought the
issue to a recent Springfield School Board meeting with a wake-up call
claim: Her son had to "walk through four kids that were smoking pot to
get to his locker" at Thurston, she said.

Police officer Mike Olsen pauses so North Bend Middle School student
Gail Reynolds can get a smooch from Gracie the black lab, who is
trained to smell drugs.

Photo: THOMAS BOYD " The Register-Guard

She advocates the dogs as "a nonconfrontational way of encouraging
students to remain drug-free on campus."

Thurston Principal Catherine Spencer said there have been 17 incidents
at the school since September when students were found holding drugs
or drug paraphernalia, or were under the influence.

"Is it more than I want. You better believe it," Spencer said. "Is it
any better or worse than (elsewhere). That's difficult to say."

 >From 1994 to 2000, Springfield expelled 236 students, 55 of them for
drug offenses in middle and high schools.

School-time drug activity isn't specific to Springfield schools, of
course. In a survey last year of 218 Lane County juniors, almost
one-quarter of them said they'd been drunk or high at school at least
once in the past year.

The Springfield School Board hopes to take up the issue next month -
and has at least one supporter in Chairwoman Jennifer Heiss. Dogs that
sniff out drugs alert officials to problems on campus and may
discourage students from bringing contraband to school, she said.

"It would be random checks, like drug-screening for employers," Heiss
said. "Prevention emphasis."

Though other school districts in Oregon use drug dogs, the concept
isn't without controversy. Critics say the use of drug-sniffing dogs
erodes the bond of trust between schools and their students.

Civil-liberties advocates warn that random searches may constitute a
violation of Fourth Amendment protections of privacy.

"People want to use drug-sniffing dogs without suspicion" of illegal
activity, said David Fidanque, executive director of the American
Civil Liberties Union of Oregon. "It's exactly that kind of general
search that the Constitution is designed to prevent."

One state Supreme Court decision implied that use of the dogs at a
storage facility might have been ruled unconstitutional had it been
proven that the dog detected property beyond the public domain,
Fidanque said.

School superintendents in the Eugene and Bethel districts both
acknowledged that drugs are undoubtedly brought into their schools,
but not so frequently as to warrant random canine searches.

But Springfield officials said they're looking for tools to stop kids
from taking drugs.

Superintendent Jamon Kent said the dogs relieve students of being
labeled tattletales.

"The hard part is the peer pressure," Kent said. The dog "builds the
trust, because a person could say to a fellow student, 'You're going
to get caught, knock this off.' " Supporters so far haven't
recommended where and when the dogs should be used in

Ten schools in six districts throughout western and southern Oregon
use a dog through the Oregon State Police, said Sgt. Larry Welty of
the agency's drug enforcement section.

During the past four or five years, Welty said there have been "less
than a dozen" instances when the dog detected contraband.

Just having the dog on school grounds reduces violations, said Carl
Wilson, principal at Coquille High School.

Over the 10-plus years his school has used the dogs, "we have found
less (drugs) in the dog searches, and around the school we've
experienced less use," he said.

"The only complaint I can remember was somebody said they didn't like
the idea we were letting dogs crawl around their kid's car," said
Giles Parker, superintendent in the Coos Bay School District, which
has used the dogs for three years. "The dog doesn't go inside the car,
he just sniffs the cracks in the door and we mark the car down."

The Rogue River School District has avoided legal challenges "by
searching the lockers, not the kids personally," Superintendent
Charles Hellman said. "The locker is the property of the school,
whereas to search a student we would have to have a reasonable
suspicion that student was in possession of drugs."

Federal judges set the precedent for drug-sniffing dogs in a
decades-old Indiana case, said Diane Geraghty, a child-law expert at
Loyola University at Chicago.

They ruled that the dogs don't violate Fourth Amendment privacy
protections because "a dog sniffing the air doesn't invade the
reasonable expectation" of privacy in a school setting, Geraghty said.
"Most case law has said lockers belong to a school and therefore you
have no reasonable expectation of privacy."

At Springfield High School this year, there have been eight
suspensions for off-campus drug activity and two incidents of
on-campus possession, Principal Doug Orton said.

He's reluctant to bring drug-sniffing dogs on campus, but senior Erin
Wolff said they would be an effective deterrent because they remove
the tattletale stigma.

Still, Wolff added, even dogs can't root out the real problem:
society's laissez-faire attitude toward recreational drug use.

"There's definitely drugs on campus," Wolff said. "The problem is that
the use of drugs is still too widely accepted."


The Springfield School Board plans to discuss the use of drug-sniffing
dogs at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 14 at the district administration building, 525
Mill St.

For more information, call 747-3331. 
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MAP posted-by: Terry Liittschwager