Thursday, June 21 , 2018, 5:08 am | Overcast 62º


Santa Barbara High Schools Will Likely Drop Drug-Detection Dogs As Contraband Deterrent

When the dogs came in, the students stepped outside. On the rare occasion, a dog would sit, and the jig was up.

Starting next school year, however, Santa Barbara, San Marcos and Dos Pueblos high schools will likely no longer have visits from drug-detection dogs, which are specially trained to sniff out contraband. 

Santa Barbara Unified School District administrators determined that they don’t want to renew the program, and its board appears ready to nix it.

“There are issues with drugs and alcohol, and it hasn’t gone away and it won’t go away, but it helped make it less of an issue in the classroom,” SBUSD board president Kate Parker told Noozhawk of the drug-detection dog program.

In general, she said, Interquest Detection Canines’ dogs turned up few hits, most of which would come from parking lots or bathrooms rather than students’ backpacks.

Schools inform Interquest of the days the dogs can’t come — like important testing days — but otherwise, their appearance on campuses and where they sniff around are random.

The canines, which can smell everything from heroin to alcohol to firearms, sit when they pick up the scent of a banned substance.

Parker said the method was considered a compromise after many parents expressed alarm over drug dealing in classrooms, with some recommending mandatory drug testing — something the district wasn’t sure it could legally or ethically justify.

Since the board first approved the program for the 2012-13 school year, its renewal has squeaked through on sharply divided 3-2 votes by the Board of Education.

Parker, who had been a reliable vote for the method, said school administrators would request it because it was valuable for revealing key hiding spots for drugs on campus.

During an update on the program at last week's board meeting, however, the board as a whole appeared skeptical.

According to assistant superintendent of student services Frann Wageneck, the program, which costs $13,500 a year, checked 1,300 classroom and facilities over 163 visits the past 4 years. Those sweeps netted only 37 “hits.”

While the average number of alcohol- and drug-related suspensions prior to the program was 260 a year, the 2015-16 school year saw 242.

“Not a huge decline, unfortunately,” Wageneck told the board at last week's meeting. 

Board members and school officials have expressed concern over the years that the program addressed drug possession only after the fact, and did nothing to treat drug issues or explore why students brought drugs or came to school high.

“Taking a vial of pot from somebody doesn’t take away from the fact that they have an addiction, they might have a need for it, or have other problems that cause them to need it,” board member Ismael Ulloa said at the board meeting.

Allowing students to take their backpacks with them before the dogs entered the classroom, which is part of the program, also diminished the method’s effectiveness, they said.

Students had also complained that the program intruded on their classroom learning time, and contributed to a climate of fear.

Parker emphasized that everyone agrees that new intervention tools — coupled with positive relationships with students — are needed.  

“There’s still unfortunately a need for intervention in some way,” she said.

Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman 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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