DECISION DUE ON DRUG DOG USE
The Maine Township High School District 207 school board is one step closer to accepting a recommendation that its schools use canine detection teams in the fight against drugs.
At a May 1 Committee of the Whole meeting, board members and administration discussed the possibility of bringing in drug-sniffing dogs and tried to work out any remaining concerns. While the board did not vote on the issue, it expects to do so next month, Board President Eric Leys said.
"There is a pretty clear consensus that everybody wants it," Leys said. The administration is expected to bring a revised policy to the board next month, reflecting board members' concerns over language and protocol, he said.
Although school policy already allows for drug searches using canines, administrators asked the board to vote on the matter to "affirm the recommendation," Superintendent Steve Snider said.
If the board approves, dogs specially trained to locate drugs would be brought into each school up to three times per year to search the school building and the parking lot, including cars. While police canine units are available for free, the school may look into hiring private companies.
Snider has been a proponent of using drug-sniffing dogs as a "tool" schools can use to keep drugs out of school. He cited a recent drug and alcohol survey conducted at all three Maine high schools that showed students were using a variety of substances, although numbers for drugs like heroin, cocaine and stimulants were relatively low.
"I don't think Maine schools have achieved the level of vigilance that is required to continue to curb the levels of abuse," Snider said.
Students found with drugs in school are given a 10-day suspension, with the opportunity to scale it down to five days if the student and parents agree the student will enter a drug and alcohol treatment program.
A program that fits the family's needs is chosen with the help of student assistance program coordinators, positions added last year in each school to help students with such situations. Students can serve the suspension in school, at home or in an alternative suspension program, linking students with local organizations for community service.
Margaret Polovchak, director of the Maine Community Youth Assistance Foundation and parent of a future Maine high school student, urged the board to take swift action on the recommendation.
"We have to protect our kids from those who are looking to make drugs available to them," she said. "Our young people deserve a safe environment."
Board members asked whether students would be subject to criminal action if drugs were found.
While drugs are always turned over to police for proper disposal, students are not always referred to police for criminal investigation, according to a panel of school deans and student assistant program coordinators.
Each school's executive committee -- the principal, assistant principals, deans, director of guidance and student assistance coordinator -- make the decision whether or not to contact the police, Maine East Principal David Barker said.
Often, the decision comes down to the amount of drugs possessed by the student, Barker said. The administration contacts police when an amount is found large enough to qualify for a felony charge. Other decisions are made on a case-by-case basis, he said, and the board of education has expelled students for serious drug activity and felony offenses.
Board member Donna Pellar, a former high school teacher, said she was prepared to support the measure to combat drug addiction and "nip it in the bud."
"I think we are morally obligated to do it," she said. "If dogs keep drugs out of schools, so be it."
Pioneer Press (IL)
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