Pubdate: Sun, 02 Mar 2008
Source: Nevada Appeal (Carson City, NV)
Copyright: 2008 Nevada Appeal
Author: Michael Maresh
Bookmark: (Drug Dogs)
Bookmark: (Students - United States)


The Churchill County School Board was put on notice  Thursday night 
about potential lawsuits from the  American Civil Liberties Union of 
Nevada regarding the  use of drug-sniffing dogs to search students' belongings.

The school board is considering an administrative  regulation to 
allow dogs to sniff backpacks of high  school and junior high students.

Lee Rowland, northern coordinator for the ACLU of  Nevada, warned the 
board what could happen if a  complaint were lodged against the 
district. The ACLU  was contacted by community members concerned that 
the  proposal was being discussed.

In a four-page letter to the school board, Rowland  wrote schools 
across the country have tried and failed  in the courts to approve 
the use of random drug  searches with no suspicion.

Rowland said it is a bad policy and one with which the  courts have 
never agreed. She said districts that have  tried to pass similar 
measures have ended up paying  students and families large sums of 
money to settle the  cases.

In one case - B.C. v. Plumas Unified School District -  she pointed 
out that once the courts made the ruling  that a dog sniff was a 
search, it was determined to not  be reasonable because the district 
had no record of a  drug problem, the searches were involuntary, 
unannounced and sudden, and the drug dogs brought fear  to students 
about their safety.

Rowland cited an article from the Lahontan Valley News  in which 
Superintendent Carolyn Ross stated she did not  think there was a 
drug problem in the district and  wanted to prove that belief. She 
said the court would  consider that fact.

At the end of the meeting, while discussing a student  survey, school 
district Attorney Sharla Hales mentioned  that 30 percent of students 
reported being offered,  sold or given illegal drugs on school 
grounds in the  past 30 days.

She said the courts may have to consider this fact.

"We believe the proposed policy lies in walking a  razor-thin line 
between existing court decisions, and  this risks a court challenge," 
she said. "We also  believe that if upheld to be a search, there is 
little  question that the search would definitely be unreasonable."

Rowland said the district and school board need to be  aware of the 
problems of the proposal.

"There is no court to say you can do that and no court  that says you 
can't," she said, asking if the CCSD  wanted to test the policy in court.

She said having such a policy in place distances  students from staff 
because they are being told they  are not trusted.

"I think it is fair to say you are on thin ice," she  said. "The 
potential consequences are very (harsh). We  urge you not to pass 
this. This is not a gray issue. It  has the potential to have 
negative connotations."

Mark Jones, a parent of three children and opponent of  the measure, 
said the reason a similar Washoe County  School District policy holds 
water is because searches  are done based on reasonable suspicion.

Jones said his children have never told him there is a  rampant drug 
problem in the district.

"Not one of my kids has come home to tell me, 'I can't  learn because 
we have drug-crazed kids.'"

Interim High School Principal Robbin Pedrett, a  supporter of the 
proposed policy, has worked at a  district where sniffing by drug 
dogs was allowed. She  said checking students' belongings is much 
better than  singling out a particular student.

"At some point we have a responsibility to keep a safe  environment 
for everyone else," she said. "So often, we  are afraid of stepping 
on the rights of people breaking  the law.

"I am still in support of a policy that keeps a healthy  and 
conducive environment," she continued, adding at  the district where 
she had worked, the dogs never came  in contact with students.

No action was taken on the policy, and board members  mentioned more 
discussion was needed.
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