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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Drug dogs stir debate in schools

Kristen Kromer Staff writer

Four months after first hearing about a drug-sniffing dog coming to the Nine Mile Falls School District, some students are praising the district for the new deterrent to bringing drugs to school, while others say the drug searches are an invasion of privacy.

“There must be a better way than this,” said Lakeside High School 10th-grader Ashley Folsom, who thinks that bringing in the dog equates to a fishing expedition by the district. She and her mom, Wendy, contacted Spokane’s Center for Justice, which will host an informational meeting with members of the American Civil Liberties Union on drug searches and students’ rights on Wednesday.

Two weeks after a January assembly that introduced students to the drug-sniffing dog, Lakeside had a level-one lockdown. That generally means a dangerous person is outside the building with a weapon, or that the school is doing a drill. The typical response is to lock all the doors, close all the blinds and keep working.

Folsom said students were surprised by the lockdown, but by the second one in April, they were wise to the drill – they knew it meant the drug dog was at school. Folsom said many ran out to their cars and took off, while others stayed in class and passed out their Tylenol (which, under district policy, should be left in the school office) to classmates in an attempt to get rid of it.

“People think (the drug dogs are) OK if they’re keeping drugs from being at school, but it’s also dangerous to have people running outside during a lockdown,” Folsom said.

Nine Mile Falls Superintendent Michael Green stands by the district’s decision to use the drug dog.

“We don’t give kids an opportunity to run out to their cars” during a lockdown, he said. “That hasn’t happened, to the best of my knowledge.”

Green said Lakeside principal Bob Anacker requested permission from him the beginning of the year to start random searches of the school for illegal drugs and alcohol. Though this year has been no worse than any other in terms of students with drugs, Anacker, a new principal, was particularly concerned about “having an environment where kids can learn and be safe,” Green said.

Green said district officials worked with the school attorney to understand how random searches could be done legally and respectfully of students’ rights.

According to the ACLU Web site at www.aclu.org, the Supreme Court ruled in 1985 that “school officials, unlike police, can search students without a warrant when they have ‘reasonable grounds for suspecting that the search will turn up evidence that the student has violated…either the law or rules of the school.’ But … just because they think some students have drugs doesn’t give them the authority to search all students.”

Sandpoint and Post Falls high schools have done random walk-throughs with a drug dog in the past, and the Central Valley School District is considering it.

At Nine Mile’s Lakeside, the dog is used to search lockers and cars, Green said, not individual students. It also has searched classrooms after students were asked to wait outside. If students leave without their bags, though, those get searched too.

“It is their choice to leave their bag behind,” Green said.

Many students, such as senior Tim Lewis, think the drug dog is doing good work.

“It’s a good idea because a lot of kids get away with too much, and they need to see there actually are consequences for what they’re doing,” he said in recent article in the Our Generation section of The Spokesman-Review.

Still, some are concerned.

“As a taxpayer, I want to know the board members and teachers are making the best decisions for kids, that taxpayer money is being used appropriately,” Wendy Folsom said. “I can’t trust that any more.”

Lakeside senior Andrew Myers said he didn’t like being “trapped in the classroom while they search our cars. This isn’t keeping us safe.” The drug dog sniffed out a bottle of Tylenol he had in his glove box. He said he got a warning.

Ashley Folsom, who has not been cited for drug possession, thinks there must be a more discreet way of handling students who bring drugs to school. She worries particularly about a friend who takes antidepressants, but doesn’t want the school to know for fear of being treated differently. She has friends who take birth control pills and keep them with them at school so their parents don’t find out.

District policy says that students are supposed to keep prescription and over-the-counter drugs in the office. But until recently, with over-the-counter drugs, officials looked the other way, Folsom said.

Green said the dog is not out to get everyone with Tylenol or Midol in their purse or backpack.

“We’re more reasonable than to consequence a kid for Midol,” he added, stressing that everything is handled confidentially. During the first lockdown, though, students did peer out windows to see whose cars were getting searched, he acknowledged.

Wendy Folsom’s concern is for students being disciplined for things they didn’t do.

“Most kids drive their parents’ older cars, which may have been on camping trips. Also, we recycle cans, which can spill in the trunk,” she said. “It’s not fair to be picked up for a minor in possession when they didn’t do anything.”

Green said students have faced no consequences for alcohol spills found in a car, and added that he believes the program has been successful. The dog has once found marijuana for which there were “consequences” for students, Green said. He declined to give specifics about the discipline. Others have been disciplined for having chewing tobacco or cigarettes, which were found by administrators accompanying the dog and its handler during drug searches, he said.

“We’ve received overwhelming, positive feedback thanking us for creating a climate that’s safe for kids,” Green added. “Since the dog came in, we’re not finding the problems we suspected were there in the past.”

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