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Santa Barbara School Board Renews Contract for Drug-Detection Dogs

Despite members' mixed feelings about the program, canines will search local high school campuses for the third straight year

By Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk News Editor | @magnoli |

The Santa Barbara Unified School District board expressed mixed feelings about having drug-detection dogs search high school campuses, but members approved the contract Tuesday for the third year in a row.

No board member changed his or her mind from last year, so the contract was approved again with a 3-2 vote, with members Gayle Eidelson, Ed Heron and Kate Parker in favor and Monique Limon and Pedro Paz opposed.

“It sets a precedent that we’re not tolerant of drugs on campus and we’re willing to put resources toward that, therefore I’m still in favor of it,” Eidelson said.

“There’s no disagreement up here as to keeping drugs off the campuses,” Heron said after the vote. “There may be a difference in opinion in how we do that, but we all agree we want drugs off our campuses.”

Santa Barbara Unified will pay $13,500 for the year’s contract, which includes two visits per month per campus for Dos Pueblos High School, La Cuesta Continuation High School, San Marcos High School and Santa Barbara High School.

Data from the past six school years show that Hispanic and Latino students are consistently overrepresented in drug-related offenses, including the possession, use or sale of drugs, alcohol or paraphernalia.

Latino and Hispanic students were involved with 69 percent of the controlled substances cases over the years, while they make up just over half the total student population.

The same overrepresentation applies to paraphernalia cases, which have stayed relatively flat over the years, but not to drug sales cases.

Santa Barbara Unified’s drug-related offenses peaked in 2009-10 and have been decreasing ever since, with record lows for the past two years.

Santa Barbara Unified School District’s drug-related cases have decreased over the past six years, including the two years when drug-detection dogs were used on high school campuses. (Santa Barbara Unified School District photo)

Last year, there wasn’t a single “hit” from the drug dogs, meaning every drug case was reported or detected by someone other than the drug detection canine contractor, according to the district.

There were 147 drug-related cases last year, 119 of which involved controlled substance possession and use. 

District officials say the dogs serve as a deterrent to keep drugs and alcohol off campus, but the two school board members who voted against the contract say it doesn’t address the core issue of drug use and prevention.

The overall drug cases were declining before the drug dogs were introduced, so the data aren't convincing that the dogs are working as a deterrent, Limon said at the last meeting.

“I would rather put our financial resources into finding ways to get students off drugs rather than students finding different ways to hide them,” she said.

Paz agreed, saying the data show no causation between the drug-detection drugs and the continuing downward trend of drug cases on high school campuses.

Drugs still feature prominently in student discipline cases, including suspensions and expulsions, they noted.

All the board members said they were concerned with the overrepresentation of Latino and Hispanic students in drug discipline cases, and Superintendent Dave Cash said the district has “work to do” in the area of cultural proficiency.

“The elephant in the room here is, are we searching backpacks of Latino students more often?” Parker asked.

Interquest Drug Detection Canines started searching district schools in the 2012-13 year, with dogs patrolling common areas lockers, student automobiles, vacant classrooms and other school grounds.

The dogs can detect illicit drugs, prescription drugs, alcoholic beverages and gunpowder.

Students can remove all of their belongings, including backpacks, from classrooms before the rooms are searched.

“Anecdotally I would say no, it’s not as effective as requiring to leave the backpacks,” Cash said. “Some district have made that decision, but we’ve been advised by (legal) counsel not to do so.”

One person spoke during public comment Tuesday to support the contract.

“It helps educators be educators and not have them have to identify students under the influence,” said Dr. Darryl Joseph, who is a local parent. 

Noozhawk news editor 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.

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