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Opinion: School board not opposed to use of drug dogs

Opinion: School board not opposed to use of drug dogs

July 25th, 2011 by The Fulton Sun in News

We here at The Fulton Sun often receive phone calls, e-mails and letters from Callaway County residents wanting us to look into issues or answer questions about issues they consider to be a topic of concern.

Sometimes these queries result in stories, sometimes not, but we always try to at least confirm whether or not there is a legitimate reason for concern, and to answer those questions for our readers.

When we received one such letter this past week, we knew the answer to the question right away, but felt compelled to double check and report our findings, as we felt that information - whether or not Fulton Public Schools allow drug dogs on campus - would be of interest to all of our readers.

According to the anonymous letter: "A group of parents were discussing the fact that the Fulton Police had not purchased another drug dog. ... One of the parents told us that they understood that even if the police had a drug dog, the Fulton School Board would not let a drug dog on school property. We were all shocked and in disbelief. This is like they are saying that drugs are OK."

The letter writer stated that one reason this issue was particularly concerning to the group of parents involved is that their children had talked about drugs being sold on the high school parking lot and being readily available in the high school, at the skate park and even at the middle school.

We too were struck with disbelief. Mostly because we have written multiple times in the past about drug dogs being brought to the high school to sniff lockers and vehicles in the parking lot. Those searches have even, more than once, resulted in the questioning of students found to have evidence of drugs or drug paraphernalia in their possession.

Still, as it had been some time since such a search had been conducted, phone calls were made to the Fulton Police Department and to Fulton Public Schools to get the official stance and to ensure there had been no change in policy.

What we found confirmed what we already believed: The school board absolutely would consider the possibility of bringing in a drug dog if administrators deemed it necessary.

"That's definitely something we would explore if we felt we needed something more than the searches we already do," School Board President Scott King said, noting he has never been on a board that said it would not allow drug dogs on campus. "My opinion is, if that's what it takes to deter drug use, that's definitely a topic the school board would explore."

Superintendent Jacque Cowherd's immediate response when asked if the board or the district has a policy against allowing a drug dog to search the schools or parking lots was similar.

"That is absolutely false, to the best of my knowledge," Cowherd said. "Nobody's (ever) told me not to - we've had drug dogs come since I've been here."

He said there were no drug dog searches during the 2010-11 school year, but that was primarily because "it seemed like this past year there weren't as big, or at least it didn't come to the surface."

"I know the first year I was here there seemed to be a lot of issues that warranted a drug dog search and there were some hits on vehicles (in the high school parking lot)," Cowherd said. "(Also) If an administrator or teacher thinks there is a problem, they'll do a search - as school personnel we have the ability to search a locker or backpack and those searches are diligently conducted if a problem is brought to our attention."

Maj. Roger Rice with the Fulton Police Department - who also serves as the district's resource officer - said that although it has been cost prohibitive for the police department to purchase another drug dog, it does have access to the Columbia Police Department's K-9 unit, and also has borrowed drug dogs from the Boone County Sheriff's Department to conduct searches.

Rice said the department is aware of the presence of drugs at the high school and middle school - as well as at the skate park - but added that, "I don't think we're any different than any other school in the country."

Asked what he and the district do to help counteract the presence of drugs and discourage students from using, he said, "you always have to hit it from two angles."

"You have to hit the supply end, and the demand end," Rice said. "We do the DARE program (to try to prevent students from using) and whenever we do get information of a kid with drugs, we act on it."

Cowherd said Rice and Fulton Police Chief Steve Myers are also helpful to school administrators in sharing their knowledge of the community and letting them know about potential issues.

"They're good about telling us, "Maybe you need to take a look at this,'" Cowherd said. "We address those as they come up."

As for the group of parents who wrote in to say their children talk about drugs being at school, he said he would welcome their input, or information from any other source that might help Fulton Public Schools battle drugs in their hallways and parking lots.

"If they've got information, we'd like to have it and deal with that issue," Cowherd said. "Our intent is to have safe schools."

It seems that although the results may not be 100-percent drug free schools, the intent is there, efforts are being made and officials are open to suggestions and help from the community. As Rice said, "you just do the best you can."