Pubdate: Sun, 01 May 2005
Source: Daily Herald (IL)
Copyright: 2005 The Daily Herald Company
Author: Erica Meltzer
Bookmark: (Youth)


As school officials searched her mother's car, passing students yelled
"Ashley got busted" and "Put her in cuffs."

For Ashley Toro, a senior at St. Viator High School in Arlington
Heights, it was humiliating and infuriating.

The only drug the Hoffman Estates girl uses is the albuterol in her
inhaler, which was prescribed eight months ago when she was diagnosed
with asthma. School officials already knew about the inhaler from a
letter her mother wrote when she started carrying it.

But Dandy - a drug-sniffing golden retriever so skilled she can pick
up beer spilled in a car a few days ago - had shown interest in her
car. The teen had used her inhaler in the car a few days before.

Toro was taken out of lunch and asked to give her permission so school
officials could search the car. She said she was told the police would
be called if she did not consent.

St. Viator senior Ashley Toro's doctor-prescribed asthma inhaler
caused a drug-sniffing dog to target her mother's car in the school
parking lot. She said the experience was humiliating and infuriating.

"It was so embarrassing," she said. "I was angry also. It's not like I
hid the fact that I had asthma."

But for school officials, it was a small inconvenience to be born in
the name of ensuring Viator is a safe and drug-free school.

Toro was not punished. The search revealed nothing amiss, and her
belongings were restored to their proper place when the search was

St. Viator's president and principal, the Rev. Tom von Behren, said
the use of a drug-sniffing dog - as well as other measures such as
random Breathalyzer tests before school dances  - serves as a deterrent.

"To bring illegal drugs onto the St. Viator campus, people know that
the consequences are real," von Behren said. "If we save one life,
it's worth it."

The law seems clear, with even the American Civil Liberties Union
saying private schools can do what they like because students aren't
compelled to go there. Even with public schools, the courts frequently
have ruled that the goal of keeping schools free of drugs or weapons
outweighs the rights of children to be free from searches.

Von Behren first learned of Dandy - who works for Texas-based
Interquest Detection Canines, a friendlier and more sensitive
alternative to police dogs - when Prospect High School in Northwest
Suburban High School District 214 introduced her last fall.

Von Behren informed parents of the decision to bring the drug-sniffing
dog to campus in his Christmas letter. Dandy was introduced to Viator
students at an assembly earlier this year.

Since then, she and handler Glenn VadeBonCoeur have conducted two
random sweeps of lockers and cars, most recently in mid-April, when
she picked up the smell of albuterol in Ashley Toro's car. No drugs
were found during Dandy's visits, school officials said.

Judy Garber, president of the Parents Club at Viator, said the use of
the dog also was explained at one of the group's meetings, and none of
the 20 people there raised any objections.

"It's a deterrent to any of the kids who do drugs not to bring them to
school or have them in the car," she said.

"Most kids who don't use drugs don't have any problem," she

Terry Toro, Ashley Toro's mother, said her original reaction to the
news was similar.

When she read the letter, she thought: "Well, I'm not going to have to
deal with this. My daughter's not on drugs."

She was shocked her car was searched and even more shocked to learn,
after several phone calls, the search did not violate her or her
daughter's civil rights.

"As a parent, I don't believe I signed away my civil liberties," she
said. "I'm just trying to get my child an education."

Terry Toro said rather than conduct random searches, the school should
adopt a zero-tolerance approach and expel students who are caught with
drugs because of suspicious behavior.

St. Viator does not have a zero-tolerance policy. For the first
offense, the student is required to meet with parents and school
officials and is given four weeks of social probation, which means he
or she can attend class but not participate in any other school
activities. The parents also are encouraged to have the student
evaluated at a local drug treatment center. The school's policy
becomes progressively stricter for subsequent offenses.

Terry Toro said she can see a legitimate reason to search lockers,
which unquestionably are school property, but she questions the search
of cars in the parking lot.

"I'm not sure that the dog belongs in the parking lot," she said. "The
problem with Viator is they take it one step too far and go into what
should be the parent's area. If you can't tell the kid is doing
anything at school, it's not their business."

Ashley Toro said she loves her school, but she disagrees with the use
of the dog.

"It's not like I hate Viator," she said. "I'm uber-involved. I was on
poms for four years, but I just think this is wrong. Making other
people feel like they've done something wrong just because one or two
have, it's not right.

"If there is a reason for suspicion, if we've recently been arrested
for something, then go ahead," she added. "As many times as the dog
comes back, I don't want to be pulled out every time."

Von Behren said the chances of a student with a chronic illness being
called out more than once were slim. The dog doesn't search the entire
school each time - it would be exhausting to do so - so random groups
of lockers and cars are searched.

Even so, von Behren said it would be foolish to make a policy of not
searching students who are known to use certain medicines for
legitimate purposes.

"Just because the student whose car is a hit uses prescription drugs
doesn't mean there might not be something else there that shouldn't be
there," he said. "We can't give that student a pass."

Ashley Toro said the policy feels like a change from the way Viator
used to be.

"It didn't used to be like this," she said. "It was the Christian
community, and it was a little friendlier. Now I feel like I'm in a
behavioral program."

Von Behren said he has implemented these policies precisely because
Viator is a community.

"A community cares for individuals," he said. "We're willing to do
what it takes to protect our children."
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