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Amity Board of Education Vote: Drug Dogs Won't Sniff Students

In a tie vote, the measure failed to gain the majority needed to pass.

 

Drug-sniffing police dogs might still turn up at Amity schools. But they won't be turning out students' pockets.

After an hour of heated debate, a sharply divided Amity Board of Education fell short of the votes needed for a revision that would have given dogs direct access to students across  The vote was an exact tie of 6-6 -- but advocates would have needed a majority to put it into effect.

Superintendent John Brady said he was content with the result, despite the split.

"I think we have what we need in terms of the existing policy," said Brady.

Amity's current policy allows for drug-sniffing dogs to search students' lockers, cars and backpacks as long as students are not present. The measure would have allowed dogs to directly sniff students' persons, potentially alerting authorities to students carrying drugs.

"The Last Thing We Need is An Outbreak to Occur"

Before the vote, the board heard from student representative Thomas Falcigno -- who spoke in favor of the measure.

"At the end of the day, Amity students don't want to attend a school where drugs plague the halls," said Falcigno. "The last thing we need is an outbreak to occur."

Falcigno cited a poll on the student government's web site showing student support for allowing police dogs greater access. He told the board most students he'd spoken to supported the measure.

Board member Tracy Lane Russo commended Falcigno.

"I'm at a loss as to why this is such a difficult decision to make," she said. "The students are saying, 'I'm not afraid of it because I'm not doing it.' … Bring it on. [Falcigno] clearly said things members of our board didn't want to hear. I was surprised by it, but I'm proud of him, and I'm proud of the students."

Supporters framed the measure as necessary to curb what could be an emerging drug problem at schools. Board member Steven DeMaio, who supported the measure, recounted a story from a security guard he met at an athletic event.

"He said to me, kids come right up to him and say, 'We're not stupid,'" said DeMaio. "'We know dogs can't go anywhere near us. So we carry drugs on us.'"

"It's Disturbing to Me on a Whole Host of Levels"

Opponents framed the vote as a choice between security and freedom.

"The idea we'd operate a school whose purpose is to educate our children, and do it in an environment where we're going to sanction and endorse the use of dogs … it's frightening to me," said board member Jim Horwitz. "It's disturbing to me on a whole host of levels. And one doesn't have to go back too far in history to understand why. Or just turn on the television to understand why."

False positives -- dogs pinpointing students who don't actually have any drugs -- are another potential problem. Critics point to studies showing false positives may make up the majority of "finds." (Proponents say these false positives may be a sign of leftover drug residue.)

Dr. Brady told Patch the district has only brought in drug-sniffing dogs twice in the nearly six years since they were first allowed -- and came up empty both times, pinpointing property belong to numerous students, but finding no actual drugs.

"We've actually experienced the degree of false-positive alerting brought up in the meeting," said Brady. "And with that degree, I'm concerned students who are totally not involved with drugs would be targeted ... I like the idea of a shift in emphasis away from policing measures toward looking at it as a health issue."

Parents, Advocates Speak Out

A group of Amity High parents addressed the board before the vote, mostly voicing opposition.

"My takeaway is, students are very concerned about drug use," said Sheila McCreven. "I'm a bit concerned to hear the students [Falcigno] spoke with are not perceiving their constitutional rights to be in any kind of jeopardy. But I think that might be an opportunity for further education. Maybe your civics classes ... can do a better job of explaining to kids what is meant by search and seizure, and probable cause."

McCreven is the mother of two Amity High students and a member of the Woodbridge Board of Education.

"It's virtually certain students will be falsely accused and subject to searches for no reason," said Woodbridge parent Sandra Walling. "And students will be afraid. And students will be humiliated."

Orange parent Brad Marcus supported the measure.

"I'm all for having dogs come in," he said. "I think it's a terrific thing both to catch kids who have it and as a deterrent."

How Board Members Voted

In Favor (drug-sniffing dogs should be allowed)

  • Christopher Browe (Orange)
  • Diane Crocco (Orange)
  • Steven DeMaio (Orange)
  • Thomas Hurley (Orange)
  • Tracey Lane Russo (Orange)
  • James Sterling (Bethany)

Opposed (drug-sniffing dogs should not be allowed)

  • Julie Altman (Woodbridge)
  • William Blake (Bethany)
  • Patricia Cardozo (Woodbridge)
  • Sue Cohen (Orange)
  • Rita Gedansky (Woodbridge)
  • James Horwitz (Woodbridge)
Sue Ellen September 11, 2012 at 02:48 AM
Bravo to the young man who stood tall for students who want to go to school without the treat of frogs. Shame on the parents snd BOE members who did not have that same courage. This district will never change until the administration is changed at the top; both employed and elected.
Sue Ellen September 11, 2012 at 02:49 AM
Also, I'd like to see published how each individual BOE member votes by town.
Davis Dunavin (Editor) September 11, 2012 at 03:45 AM
Sue, we'll have that information, plus a lot more, tomorrow morning. Check back in for the full story!
Aldon Hynes September 11, 2012 at 02:51 PM
I have not supported the use of dogs to search students at Amity High School, in part because I'm concerned about the rights of students who don't you drugs, but more importantly, because the research indicates that it isn't an effective policy. I hope that the parents and members of the community that are concerned about drug abuse at Amity High School find ways to work together on effective programs, back up by solid research, to reduce drug abuse. For example, I'd encourage everyone to read the article from the 1997 National Conference on Drug Abuse Prevention Research. http://archives.drugabuse.gov/NIDA_Notes/NNVol12N1/NatConf.html It is an old article, but still has a lot of important information. For example: "research has identified a large number of biological, behavioral, family, and environmental factors that either increase or reduce the likelihood of drug use. Prevention programs need to assess and target these risk and protective factors in the individual, the family, the school, peer relationships, and the environment, while remaining flexible" and "families constitute one of the earliest and most important domains of drug abuse risk and protective factors. 'We need to integrate families as early as possible in prevention programs,' he said. 'Parental monitoring' should be at the core of family intervention programs" Let's work together to strengthen solid research based programs to reduce drug abuse in our schools.
Bethany September 11, 2012 at 07:01 PM
My daughter would freak out if a dog sniffed her. She is very scared of dogs. I say no.

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