When drug-sniffing dogs come into to perform a search, they can sniff backpacks, lockers, public areas and cars in the parking lot, but that’s where their search ends. According to current Board of Education policy, the dogs cannot sniff students. That may soon change.
The Amity Board of Education’s policy committee on Tuesday night agreed to recommend to the full board a change in policy verbiage that would allow drug-sniffing dogs to sniff students when there is suspicion of drugs.
“The current policy is inconsistent because it absolutely prohibits a search by dogs, while state law permits it,” says Tracy Russo of Orange. She’s on the Board of Education’s Policy Committee. “If a student knows he can never be sniffed by a dog, he’ll put the drugs on his person and sit in the classroom where it’s safe.”
On May 3, so that police could comb the building for drugs. Nothing was found.
According to consulting attorney Marcia Moses, state law says that searching in schools is held to a different standard than public places. There has to be individualized suspicion to give a dog permission to search a student, but under current Amity policy, dogs can’t sniff students under any condition.
“Students have a certain expectation of privacy when they’re at school,” she says.
Woodbridge father Elia Alexiades said he is strongly against loosening the policy. He says it is against a person’s rights to search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution: “I am absolutely opposed to expanding the search. Get rid of the dogs. We’re setting a bad example for students and conditioning them to having their rights challenged.”
He was one of only a handful of parents who showed at the meeting after an email from ‘AmityiSafe@gmail.com’ circulated email boxes in the tri-town area. The email was a call for "concerned parents to come out and voice their thoughts on how our school system is addressing teenage substance abuse on school grounds. A large portion of the BOE feels that the parents are satisfied with the current policy and there is no need to change it. If you are interested in better understanding the current policy and how we might improve it please let us know. Your input is imperative to make our kids learning experience a safer one."
Sniffing Out Drugs
At last night’s meeting, Connecticut State Trooper Steve Chapman performed a demonstration with his canine unit Rayner, a Golden Retriever trained to sniff drugs. Though Chapman refused to reveal exactly what Rayner found in School Resource Officer Richard Rizutti’s pocket, when challenged by Alexiades, he did say it was one of the eight drugs his dog was trained to find.
Rayner, like the other dogs used in searches at Amity High School, is a passive alert dog, not an aggressive alert dog.
“When he finds drugs, he points with his nose and sits. He doesn’t scratch at the drug odor as aggressive alert dogs do. He puts his nose where the narcotics are,” Chapman explains. Rayner did just that when Rizutti put in his pocket something he said was a narcotic.
In an arena or other public place, a canine can search the crowd without targeting one person.
“We’ll tell the dog to work and he’ll work through the crowd,” Chapman says, adding that the canine has a 100% accuracy rate.
If a drug-sniffing dog finds the scent of a drug in an Amity student’s car or backpack, administrators bring the student to the spot, but under current policy, the dogs need to be led far enough away to not be able to target the student. Administrators then search the student and if needed, police are called in.
Board member Jamie Sterling, who is not on the policy committee, said, “It would be a mistake to amend the policy beyond what CABE approved and vetted. If we push this beyond the Fourth Amendment, it will probably bring challenges that will be quite costly to the district.”
Committee members Thomas Hurley, Tracy Russo, Diane Crocco and Christopher Browe voted in favor of recommending the full board. Sue Cohen voted against it.
The Board of Education will consider the recommended policy change at its regular monthly meeting on June 11.