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Jan 11, 2012 8:44 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Sag Harbor Considers Using Dogs To Deter Drugs At School

Jan 11, 2012 9:50 AM

The Sag Harbor School Board could become the first local school district to authorize the regular use of drug-sniffing police dogs to scan student lockers and cars at Pierson High School, an effort to discourage students from bringing illegal drugs to school.

Although the school administration has the authority to order the use of dogs to search for drugs in the building at any time, School Board members said this week that on the recommendation of Superintendent of Schools Dr. John Gratto, the board will propose an official policy of bringing dogs into the school intermittently to check for the presence of drugs, with the hope that students will stop carrying drugs with them for fear of being caught.

The board is set to consider the policy at its next two meetings, on January 23 and February 6, before board members vote on whether to implement the plan.

Dr. Gratto said that his recommendation of the new policy to the board on Monday night was not in response to a particular incident or an overreaching problem with narcotics in the school, but simply a matter of trying to completely stamp out a prevalent, if limited, problem.

In a recent survey of students, faculty and parents, he said, students responded that they had been effectively made aware of the dangers of illegal drugs, but that drugs were nonetheless regularly present in the school.

“A big part of this is, we want to help people change their behavior,” Dr. Gratto said. “We’ve discussed this before. We raised the question of what would be an effective deterrent, and the board generally agreed the dogs could be an option.”

Dr. Gratto said that he has used K-9 patrols in other school districts he has led and saw evidence of a decline in drugs coming into the schools.

He presented the board with a policy guideline on Monday that laid out rules for the use of the dogs, limiting their use to patrols of the hallways past student lockers and in campus parking lots. The policy specifically prohibits “sniff searches” of individual students or staff members, but it states that any student or staff who is found to be in possession of drugs would be referred to the police.

If the policy were to be implemented, Dr. Gratto said the dogs would be brought to the school four or five times throughout the school year. Only he and Pierson High School Principal Jeff Nichols would know when the searches were to be conducted, and the dogs and their handlers would be accompanied on their patrols by an administrator. The searches would be done while students were in class, starting at the beginning of a class period and ending before the period was over, but the presence of the dogs would be announced—to drive home the deterrent message.

The dog patrols would come free of charge, as police K-9 teams need to do regular training with their dogs in real-life situations. The Suffolk County Police Department has several drug-sniffing dog teams.

School Board President Mary Anne Miller said that the use of drug dogs seemed to be something that all seven School Board members were in favor of initially. As with any new policy, she said, the board would hold discussions on the matter at two board meetings before implementing it.

“This can be a difficult thing to swallow for some, but my personal feeling is that we need to ensure zero tolerance of drugs and alcohol in our school,” she said. “I’m willing to give this a shot.”

The Hampton Bays School District brought drug-sniffing dogs into its high school on one occasion—also as an effort to deter students from bringing drugs to school in the future, rather than to address a single incident—but this would be the first time a local district implemented a policy calling for regular patrols.

The board briefly discussed the use of drug dogs about a year ago but dropped the matter after some parents expressed strong reservations about the message it sent. But Ms. Miller said she feels the sentiment on the board now is that with the guidelines laid out in the policy, those concerns should be assuaged.

“Parents flipped out that students were going to be marched through the school in handcuffs in front of their peers,” she said. “But in the event some small amount of drugs is found, it would be handled the same as it would if Jeff Nichols found drugs in a student’s locker himself. They’ll be called to the principal’s office, the police will be called and their parents will be called.”

School Board member Ed Drohan said that another concern of parents was that it would send the wrong message to students who were not bringing drugs to the school. But the results of the recent survey, he said, seem to indicate that students are savvy enough to understand the need.

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What a wonderful message Dr. Gratto and the school board are sending to the students. First, I would like to see the stats from the school and local PD showing apprehensions for possession. I bet they are nil.

Suffolk County PD in the past has employed dogs in western Suffolk schools to sniff out drugs when they or the school officials possessed "knowledge" there was contraband in the lockers. This was done during after school hours and/or weekends when students were not present.

The ...more
By BruceB (142), Sag Harbor on Jan 11, 12 5:12 PM
By ranger (54), springs on Jan 11, 12 5:41 PM
It's a good idea. My kids are students at Pierson and say there is a huge problem with many kids coming to school high and using while in school. There seems to be a laid back attitude toward being under the influence. Someone needs to step up and enforce a zero tolerance policy like they preach. The dogs are a great deterrent.
By Spikeland67 (25), Sag Harbor on Jan 11, 12 8:48 PM
1 member liked this comment
Why not armed guards and barbed wire as well?
By progressnow (556), sag harbor on Jan 12, 12 7:43 AM
Do you think the dogs will change that "laid back attitude" or should the school deal with the problems that exist today? The administration needs to step up and face the problem head on rather than making a splashy, intrusive statement with an occasional sniff session.

"Hey kids, this is school - leave your right to privacy at the door because we can't deal with a few miscreants!"
By VOS (1241), WHB on Jan 12, 12 11:04 PM
Although I don't think this is a bad idea. I find it hypocrtical since the officer that taught my child DARE at Pierson was arrested himself for drug use but he got to got to Rehab.
By sagharborparent (30), sag harbor on Jan 12, 12 8:13 AM
1 member liked this comment
Hypocritical? This is the norm these days. Those in charge have been performing the "Do as I say not as I do" dance for decades - in every aspect of life, those in charge flout the very laws and regs they create to control the citizenry.
By tmarie (30), Southampton on Jan 13, 12 6:18 AM
1 member liked this comment
Criminal activity is criminal activity, if dogs will be a deterrant to kids bringing drugs onto school grounds, do it , and soon!
By bigfresh (4666), north sea on Jan 12, 12 8:09 PM
1 member liked this comment
I guess some things were more socially acceptable in your high school days...
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Jan 12, 12 8:46 PM
Oh, big freshness, Don't you grow tired of being a complete --- on every single subject?
By razza5351 (551), East Hampton on Jan 12, 12 8:48 PM
It a good idea, as long as they don't warn the students when the dogs will be at the school like Southampton foolishly used to do. If kids think a dog might sniff out their stash, they will be less likely to bring it into school, and that's a good thing.
By goldenrod (505), southampton on Jan 12, 12 10:02 PM
The dogs are a very bad idea. There are only so many good teachers out there to choose from. After you bust the ones smoking weed, we're down to a handful or so. Oh wait, the dogs are for the kids?!
By tmarie (30), Southampton on Jan 13, 12 6:14 AM
1 member liked this comment
if teachers get caught smoking weed, they don't lose their job. The union wouldn't allow it (on the first offense) But if it were possible for them to lose their job over marijuana, don't you think they have a choice to stop using or stop teaching? It's not like they HAVE to do it. It's a recreational activity that they would intentionally be choosing over their job.
By AlwaysLocal (292), southampton on Jan 15, 12 10:02 AM
Wow if this passes, I bet a few teachers grab that pension and they don't want to be called to the principals office, and great idea to have SCPD do it, no local coverups.
By BCHBUM11968 (81), SOUTHAMPTON on Jan 13, 12 11:50 AM
Will the dog be sniffing around the teacher parking lot too?
By lucy2 (63), Southampton, NY on Jan 14, 12 6:45 AM
Great idea. Get kids used to the idea that civil liberties are only historical. As things are going, they will need to submit to a retinal scan to buy food when they are adults.
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Jan 16, 12 10:10 PM
Civil liberties don't include breaking the law HH. It is perfectly legal to have drug sniffing dogs in a school, especially if there's suspicion of contraband on campus, they key phrase is ON CAMPUS.
By bigfresh (4666), north sea on Jan 17, 12 1:44 PM
Bigfresh, does your hypocrisy know no bounds. You are constantly spewing right wing, anti-big-government nonsense on this blog, but, when the intrusion into civil liberties fits your myopic, far-right ideology you are quick to change your mind.

Drug sniffing dogs in school is extreme, unwarranted and an insanely stupid idea.
By progressnow (556), sag harbor on Jan 17, 12 2:51 PM
2 members liked this comment
You nailed it, progressnow. Lest anyone think progress now is unfairly attacking bigfresh for his blinding hypocrisy, read his post from Dec 5, 09 8:16 AM which I have pasted below:

"The DEC is an INCREDIBlly powerful law enforcement agency that answers to no one!! There are no elected positions that we, as taxpayers, can influence with our votes. Do you know that the DEC can search your car, boat or even your HOME without a warrant?? Talk about a potential abuse of power!"
By witch hazel (224), tatooine on Jan 17, 12 3:24 PM
1 member liked this comment
Hey, capt'n, when I commented on the gun incident did I say we should put police in schools? Did I call for gun sniffing dogs and metal detectors?

There is no hypocrisy in what I've said. Your continued use of a Herman Cain avatar says all anyone would need to know about your inability to think outside of that little box you've put yourself in.
By progressnow (556), sag harbor on Jan 18, 12 8:06 AM
Drug sniffing dogs in school is just sheer nonsense meant to appeal to an unwarranted hysteria. The key to curtailing drug use is education, not intimidation.
By dagdavid (646), southampton on Jan 17, 12 4:40 PM
Phil, I believe that the school would use the suffolk county k-9 unit, as they offer this service to all schools who request a drug sweep. The taxpayers are ALREADY paying for this unit, so it wouldn't be an added charge for anything, as this service has been in place for a number of years (though rarely used)
By AlwaysLocal (292), southampton on Jan 23, 12 6:15 PM
If we are going to put drug-sniffing dogs in schools, let's train them to sniff out HPV as well. Is not the additional intrusion on personal privacy but a small price to pay to prevent the spread of Cancer?
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Jan 17, 12 9:44 PM
Cancer jokes, always funny.
By lucy2 (63), Southampton, NY on Jan 19, 12 6:44 AM
this is actually not a good idea. we can't afford to lose several good teachers...
By ....Loading (3), Southampton on Jan 20, 12 6:37 AM
...loading, if a teacher is smoking pot, they are breaking the law. Now, teachers won't lose their jobs if they're caught smoking or in possession of marijuana on the first offense (the union is steadfast on this) but wouldn't you agree that if they get caught enough times to lose their job, than they made a deliberate decision that getting high is more important to them than teaching. It seems to me that you want to allow children to get as high as they want (on campus) because you're worried ...more
By AlwaysLocal (292), southampton on Jan 20, 12 8:34 AM
We can teach dogs to teach kids but we can't teach parents and teachers to teach the kids that drugs are bad news? Who teaches the dogs? the kids?
By user.name (46), hampton bays on Jan 21, 12 1:25 AM
I personally think it's a fabulous idea...

I worked in an inpatient substance abuse facility... and believe you me, the youngn's that we had were a hell of a lot more inventive regarding the stashing of said substances than their older counterparts. A good portion of these kids today are completely uneducated when it comes to the realities that life hands a person. They have their parents hand them everything on a silver platter and when the real world comes a-knockin', they throw up their ...more
By Allergic2Stupidity (77), Riverhead on Jan 21, 12 3:10 PM
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