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Amity BOE Considers Expanding Drug Dog Use

The Amity Board of Education's rules are stricter than state laws when it comes to searching for drugs

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.

Debbie Esposito May 30, 2012 at 11:08 AM
I wish I had known about this meeting. Can someone direct me to where you find agenda topics for upcoming BOE meetings?
Gary Jeanfaivre (Editor) May 30, 2012 at 11:56 AM
Hi, Debbie -- the district's website is a good resource. Here's a link to the BOE meeting schedule page: http://www.amityregion5.org/District_Page/Full_Board/BOE_Members/Full_Board_Meeting_Schedule/full_board_meeting_schedule.shtml
Debbie Esposito May 30, 2012 at 12:39 PM
Great, thanks!
Letha Deck May 30, 2012 at 01:20 PM
Drug dogs at school is an extreme measure. It publicly identifies drug users. That will be traumatic for the young people. Scandals that can never be lived down will ruin young people's chances to make a fresh start in life. I didn't know drugs were such a problem at Amity. The problem certainly isn't a new one at Amity, that's for sure. With legal medicinal marijuana laws coming down the pike, isn't this an aggressive strategy for a social issue? Maybe the DARE program needs revamping.
Debbie May 30, 2012 at 03:00 PM
I agree that the DARE program needs revamping - some kids say they didn't even know there were certain drugs if it weren't for DARE. My son got a lot out of the talks ex users gave - that made an impact on him. Amity has always been a mess with drugs. The school needs to keep our kids safe while teenagers over the ages need to experiment and rebel - the age old cycle will go on. I image there are a lot of Amity students with Lawyers for parents and I can't image that turning out well but once on school property you are under Amity's care. STOP bringing your drugs to school! It's really that simple - maybe use them as a reward for when your homework is done.
Jessie Brown May 30, 2012 at 03:07 PM
DARE is in 6th grade when most of the kids are still innocent. DARE needs to be repeated in 8th grade and ramped up for that age. Bottomline is if my kid has drugs on them, let them get caught. Too many parents are clueless until the other shoe falls. Catching it early can mean early intervention. Isn't that a good thing? Remember, most are still minors....
Janine Y. Arents May 30, 2012 at 03:19 PM
The dogs should certiantly be able to sniff the students. Students have figured out that if they keep the drugs on them they can't be targted by the dogs. It is sending the complete wrong message if the drug dogs are not allowed to sniff the students. As far as ruining young people's chances to start a fresh start? They should think about that before they carry drugs into school, period.
Kathy May 30, 2012 at 04:23 PM
I love this idea! I also love the idea of more DARE at the older levels. I live in a near by town & they dropped DARE & I think it was a huge mistake. My HS is loaded with drugs & dealers & it is a similar demographic to the Amity demo. Bring the dogs & DARE! The more instances where kids don't feel comfortable with drugs in school the better! Get the drugs out & take what ever measure you have to!
Sue Ellen May 30, 2012 at 05:07 PM
Traumatic for young people??!! How much "sweeping under the rug do you want to do on this issue?". The district's policy needs to embrace the state's policy/guidelines. As a community we should be ashamed and the fact that students ... And perhaps their parents...know the law to bypass it bu hiding in the classroom with drugs potentially on their person....that does more to tramuatize students on a daily basis when compared to using dogs to identify persona with drugs on them when they use the drugs. Time to clean things up! Wished the BOE on this subject was better advertised...would have been there and spoke my piece.
Janine Y. Arents May 30, 2012 at 05:45 PM
I can't agree more. If the students get caught, while a minor, they can change their behavior. Once a student is of age the drug conviction stays on their record, forever.
Over 40 years of this May 30, 2012 at 06:15 PM
If there is nothing to hide students and parents should not be upset if the policy changes. Maybe some parents are afraid of what the dogs will find on their own children/young adults. Some parents inability to see, admit, and deal with any issues may be charging their resistance to the proposed policy change. It is agreed that innocent students may be called to the office to be searched and yes this could be embarrassing but their school record, personality, and reputation will speak for itself. Wouldn't it be fortunate if a student could be educated to realize that there are better choices for them and their future? This would only happen if they were caught. Current students at Amity and some who have graduated in the past couple of years clearly stated in comments following the May article that there is a huge problem with all types of drugs at Amity some students don't feel safe there. It is understood that we are not the only school with this issue however this environment is not appropriate for an educational institution like Amity that prides itself on excellence and zero tolerance.
Peter trickle May 31, 2012 at 09:20 PM
Officer Rizzuti has been trying to fight the war on drugs for Many years at ahs. His effort has been greatly appreciated by the parents of the students. Officer Rizzuti's dedication to the students and school should be commended and loud mouths like Elia Alexiades should keep their mouths shut. Alexiades has been a loud mouth for many years in our town and has been on every board (fire,police and now boe) in order to make himself seem important. The safety of our kids should come first. Alexiades should see this and not be on a board for self puffing and free food.
Orange Mom June 05, 2012 at 01:57 AM
Drugs (at school or not) are illegal. It is not a social issue, it is a crime. Why is it an extreme measure to bring in drug sniffing dogs. If you have a student at Amity then you must know it is an issue, as in most schools. Why wouldn't parents want to do anything they could to protect the majority of students, rather than "traumatize" the minority.
Orange Mom June 05, 2012 at 01:58 AM
Agree 100%
Orange Mom June 05, 2012 at 02:06 AM
I urge all AHS parents to be seen and heard at the next BOE meeting on June 11. Policy will not be changed if parents are ambivalent to this issue. Three parents at a meeting is not enough to make a difference. Please take a stand, protect your children and your school. Show up!

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