If Hawaii residents are like the state school board, there are likely to be some pretty mixed opinions on a plan to let trained dogs sniff students’ lockers for contraband even if principals don’t suspect that weapons or drugs are on campus.
The policy shift, which requires Gov. Linda Lingle’s signature, was adopted Nov. 1 on a 7-5 vote by the board. Over the next few months, the board, which governs the statewide school district, will gather input from the public on its decision.
Existing rules allow school officials to permit the canines to inspect common areas, such as cafeterias or hallways. Interest in changing the rules came after a dog detected drugs at three schools in Maui earlier this year through a pilot program. Gov. Lingle, a Republican, has said she favors the change.
But concerns have been raised over whether officials would use the power appropriately.
“There will have to be safeguards that limit this,” said Greg Knudsen, a spokesman for the state education department. “But when it comes down to a matter of whether we need to remove drugs, alcohol, or firearms from school campuses, then I think everyone is in agreement.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii, however, opposes the plan. And others say they would rather the state focus on drug prevention.
Valerie Sonoda, the president of the Hawaii PTSA, said the organization has been supportive of a canine-detection program, but described the search and seizure of students’ personal belongings without cause as “barbaric.”
A federal appeals court has not ruled on the issue. In a 1999 case, a federal court ruled that reasonable suspicion is required in order to sniff a student directly, although not for random searches of lockers or cars.
The ACLU also has been busy preparing a lawsuit against the state over a provision in the contract with the teachers’ union that requires randomized drug testing.
And in a letter to Gov. Lingle last month, the ACLU demanded an end to the drug testing of teachers. According to Graham Boyd, the director of the ACLU’s Drug Law Reform Project, the governor responded saying she does not intend to stop the program.
A version of this article appeared in the November 28, 2007 edition of Education Week