Tuesday, February 9 , 2016, 10:02 pm | Fair 57º

Board Approves Use of Drug-Detection Dogs at Santa Barbara High Schools

Some members remain hesitant, however, to move forward without first detailing procedures to ensure a fair, random search process

Drug-detection dogs approved for use Tuesday at high schools in the Santa Barbara Unified School District are nonaggressive Labrador and golden retrievers that are always leashed and alert handlers to the presence of substances by sitting down.
Drug-detection dogs approved for use Tuesday at high schools in the Santa Barbara Unified School District are nonaggressive Labrador and golden retrievers that are always leashed and alert handlers to the presence of substances by sitting down.  (Interquest Detection Canines photo)

By Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @magnoli |

Drug-sniffing dogs will randomly search the high school campuses of the Santa Barbara Unified School District next year in an effort to deter students from bringing drugs to school, the school board decided Tuesday night.

The board voted to pursue a contract with Interquest Detection Canines, a company that charges $410 per full-day visit and has dogs trained to detect marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, ecstasy, alcoholic beverages, gunpowder and frequently abused medications.

The district next will work with Interquest to outline how the searches will be conducted randomly and how alerts on students and teachers will be handled.

The 2010-11 California Healthy Kids Survey indicates that about 14 percent of SBUSD high school students had either consumed alcohol or used marijuana or other illegal drugs on school property during the 30 days before taking the survey, and district statistics show there have been about 260 alcohol- and drug-related infractions every year for the past five years.

It’s not a new idea for the district, but it has never gained much public support until now. Parents and principals interviewed by Noozhawk in October were mostly positive, but many reserved judgment until more details came out.

The Dos Pueblos High School Charger Account’s reporters surveyed classmates on the subject and found overwhelming opposition, mostly because of cost and doubts about effectiveness.

Interquest uses Labrador and golden retrievers that are always leashed and alert handlers to the presence of substances by sitting down. Bishop Garcia Diego High School has contracted with the company for more than five years, and Head of School Paul Harrington said it has been a good preventive measure.

“It’s random and has been a priority for us to try to ensure we’re as drug-free as we can be,” he has told Noozhawk.

The Santa Barbara district would conduct similar searches, with students and teachers stepping out of classrooms as dogs sniff backpacks and other belongings. After an alert, the student in question would be taken to the office, though the exact procedure — and consequences — aren’t decided yet.

That was one of the board’s main concerns on Tuesday — moving forward without a detailed policy and search procedures.

Board members Monique Limon and Annette Cordero voted against implementing drug dogs because they don’t see the procedures in place to ensure a fair, random search process. They said it’s especially important that no student population is targeted, especially since the district’s discipline policies have been criticized as being subjective.

Statistics show a larger percentage of Latino students being expelled and suspended than white students, and the district decided to pursue a pilot program at a junior high school next year that uses a restorative justice discipline model. Cordero asked how the drug detection consequences would fit in with that new system.

“We’re going forward under a model of suspension and expulsion that might change dramatically,” she said. “I think we all hope it will change dramatically in the next several months.”

Limon said she didn’t believe the process would be truly random, and though the dogs could deter students from bringing drugs to campus, it doesn’t address the fundamental issue of children using drugs.

“As we heard on Jan. 17, there is nothing random about our discipline policies. I heard the word ‘subjective’ used multiple times,” she said. “I do not feel comfortable voting for a new tool given that the policy, the practice and the tool are not aligned.”

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

» on 02.15.12 @ 06:23 AM

Making our schools into Police State like institutions will do more damage than good. Marijuana is now a infraction, less than a misdemeanor, in small amounts. Once one of children are marked with the Scarlet Letter of a drug user, society will automatically cut in half their chances at a successful life. It would be better in times like these to spend the money on feeding and sheltering our youth, instead of feeding CEOs and dogs.

» on 02.15.12 @ 12:09 PM

Any chance the dogs can be re-directed to the County Administration building? There are rumors of a crime scene at the Board of Supervisors.

» on 02.15.12 @ 02:08 PM

Enacting “random” searches by drug-sniffing dogs may have some deterrent effect, but recent studies have shown a high percentage of false positives in other places where such dogs are used and a tendency toward racial profiling.  If this contract is implemented, how will the board evaluate its effectiveness and prevent abuses?

» on 02.15.12 @ 06:18 PM

Very sad that, with the urgent need for all CA educational systems to mobilize to
support new jobs and technologies, in the face of world-wide competition, we have to invest scarce money to battle recreational drugs and gang violence at SB High.

Is this where our “future leaders” will emerge, equipped to excel?

» on 02.15.12 @ 06:32 PM

The schools are up against the wall on this problem. They could use more help and less criticism. If you guys have a better idea lets hear it. As for the profiling that’s a red herring. More Latino students are in fact in trouble, so their numbers will be higher. What do you want the schools to do, let a bunch of kids off the hook so the numbers are “balanced”, isn’t that the definition of bias, artificial manipulation for racial or ethnic purposes?

» on 02.15.12 @ 08:00 PM

No criticism intended, only questions that are better addressed sooner than later.  Profiling is defined as “disproportionate” selection of a group on the basis of race or ethnicity.  The fact that a high percentage of students are Latino is not the issue.  But if Latino students are disproportionately selected for drug checks, that constitutes profiling.  So the question remains: what is the board doing to prevent profiling, and how will it evaluate whether or not it’s happening?

» on 02.16.12 @ 04:52 AM

What are Limon and Cordero afraid of - the dogs will only find Latino students with drugs. I will say it is sad day for this country and our govt-run school system monopoly that we need dogs to patrol the schools. I can’t wait for our money hungry educational genius, Bill Cirone, to write an article blaming the citizens of Ca for this mess we call “public education”.

» on 02.16.12 @ 11:25 AM

The profiling is a real concern, but some of what AN50 says is also correct. There was an incident many years ago where dogs were brought out and students placed their backpacks on the ground for the dogs to examine. They can also sniff cars and lockers instead of targeting students.
The district has to be careful about equitable enforcement policies, also.
Drmerk could you provide a link to the studies that show a lot of false positives? I would like to take a look at those.

» on 02.20.12 @ 11:24 AM

Marijuana may only be an infraction.  Does that mean it doesn’t make you lazy, non motivated?  Forget what you have just read or studied?  Turn a young person’s brain into a liberal, I can do what I want and not contribute, 99%‘er….because after all I have a right to stay stoned!  Kids think it’s cool to smoke!  If the dogs help keep it off of our campus’s, good going!

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