The Santa Barbara Unified School District has been using drug-detection dogs in its high schools for a year now, but some Board of Education members aren’t convinced the program is working.
They’ll be asked to renew the contract — for $13,500 per year for 60 half-day visits — at the next board meeting.
The district’s controlled-substance violations in secondary schools hit a 10-year low last year, with 139, said Marlin Sumpter, director of pupil services.
The trend has been going down since 2010-11, according to his numbers.
Interquest Detection Canines has dogs that sit down when they “alert” on controlled substances, and the handlers walk dogs around parking lots and randomly-chosen classrooms.
High school administrators have concerns that the program isn’t in full effect because students can take their backpacks out with them when the dogs sniff the classrooms, board member Kate Parker said.
Superintendent Dave Cash said there has only been one court in the country — Georgia’s Fifth District Court — that said randomly searching student belongings wasn’t a violation of the Fourth Amendment and unlawful search and seizure.
“I’m still not convinced this is one of the many tools we should implement,” board president Monique Limon said. “I see the trend starting to go down independent of this particular tool.”
She voted against the contract last year, as did former board member Annette Cordero, because of concerns about a fair, random search process.
The district’s discipline policies have been criticized as being subjective, and Limon said this week that she would prefer a more restorative approach to the drugs on campus.
A disproportionate number of Latino boys and girls are expelled compared to their white classmates, and the pilot restorative discipline program at Santa Barbara Junior High School is spreading to all four junior highs and Santa Barbara High School this year.
The drug-detection dogs are meant as a deterrent, but board member Pedro Paz was concerned that the numbers don’t show the whole story.
The program doesn’t do anything to deal with the root problem of drug use by students either, he said.
Data presented at Tuesday night’s board meeting didn’t break out how many cases were discovered by staff members and how many were discovered by the dogs.
A very low number of students were caught by the dog searches, Sumpter said.
Cash said the program is just a tool to keep drugs off campus.
“There’s a very strong belief among high school administrators that it’s most effective in deterring the use of drugs in students who are not users of drugs on a regular basis, and we have other work to do with kids who are making poor choices,” he said.
The board also heard about a new program at Alta Vista Alternative School, which is being spearheaded by principal Frann Wageneck.
Quetzal Academies will be home to junior high and high school students who have been expelled, going through the School Attendance Review Board, or transitioning back from the Probation Department’s Los Prietos Boys Academy.
The district has been developing the program since the county's El Puente Community School closed in June.
The quetzal is an important bird in Central American culture and symbolizes freedom and liberty, which is why Wageneck chose it as the mascot. Plus, both La Cuesta Continuation High School and Alta Vista already have birds as mascots.
“This is a beautiful bird, and the quetzal in mythology cannot be held in captivity or it dies,” she said.
A special education class will be held at La Colina Junior High School, where Alta Vista is now housed.
The curriculum will be entirely new, with a blend of online classes, face-to-face instruction and multi-subject projects. It has to be specialized for each student because there will be such a big range of ages and skill levels among the students, Wageneck said.
“How do you serve the student who’s in honors and GATE who’s an eighth-grader and the senior in high school who is deficient 100 credits and has a learning disability?”
The Quetzal Academies will have career technical education opportunities, and teachers will partner with the community to offer even more to these students who have often been marginalized and unsuccessful, she said.
“My email and phone is literally blowing up with folks from the community who want in on this, so I think we have a real opportunity to do something that we haven’t done before,” Wageneck saud,