Drug-sniffing dog to roam school halls

K-9 unit to arrive at middle, high schools unannounced


— A new officer soon will be sniffing around Steamboat Springs schools for the first time.

Steamboat Springs School District administrators plan to bring a drug dog into the hallways of the middle and high schools, likely within the next several months. Superintendent Shalee Cunningham opened a discussion at the Jan. 13 Steamboat Springs School Board meeting about the possibility of bringing a K-9 unit onto school grounds. The dog, from the Front Range, would come on an unannounced day to search hallways and parking lots.

Steamboat Springs High School Principal Kevin Taulman said he and School Resource Officer Josh Carrell came up with the idea. Taulman said the goal is not to catch anyone with drugs, but to make sure students do not bring contraband to school. The knowledge that a dog is coming likely will be enough to stop students from bringing drugs, he said.

"They don't know when it's going to come, so that's the risk they're going to run bringing marijuana into the school. I'm very comfortable with the way we're doing this, letting everyone know," he said.

The dog will come sometime in the next several months, after building principals have a chance to speak with parent information committees at each building.

When informed about the plan, high school PIC Chairwoman Nancy Mucklow said she supports the idea of a drug dog in the school.

"As a parent, I'm not seeing a specific need, but I definitely trust the judgment of the principal and Josh Carrell," she said. "I think that a lot of things might be precluded because people have a heads-up, and they know it won't be tolerated."

Cunningham said the dogs are necessary because the number of expulsion hearings have escalated this year, primarily from students being caught with marijuana.

"We have twice the drug problem this year we did last year," she said.

The drug search will be operated in conjunction with the Steamboat Springs Police Department. School administrators will be in charge of searching the lockers. If drugs are found in a locker, the student will face expulsion from the school district and administrators will hand over any drugs found to the police department so the student may be charged.

Police Capt. Joel Rae said his office will help make the arrangements to bring the dog to Steamboat, but they will not be directly involved in the search. Only a few police officers and district administrators will know what day the dog is coming.

Steamboat Springs Middle School students also will hold an assembly for all students so they can see how the drug dog operates.

Cunningham said the dog will never come in direct contact with students when it is searching the school. Students will remain in classrooms while the dog goes through the school.

At the Jan. 13 meeting, board member John DeVincentis said he supports the idea of getting drugs out of the schools, but he was not happy with the idea of a dog. He said he was concerned about a "police mentality that's running rampant in our community," and questioned the efficacy of a drug dog.

Other School Board members supported bringing the dog into the schools after a discussion with parent groups. The board did not require a vote on the dog coming into the school because it is an administrative policy.


sickofitall 8 years, 2 months ago

So what if the students have the drugs on thier person? Is the expulsion permanent or is there a time frame? I do not believe that a student should be expelled indefinitely for this. I would suggest the opportunity to own up and be honest before the dog comes through the school. A very special school I attended had two rules only. Honesty and no drugs. Honesty learned at an early age will serve us a great deal in life.


sickofitall 8 years, 2 months ago

Also, why not the elementry school? Are we so jaded that 6th graders are not doing this too? If they are, better to deal with it early. Sounds like profiling to me.


Publius 8 years, 2 months ago

As a former SSHS graduate, and currently practicing lawyer in Denver, I have grave concerns about the legality of this new program, and question whether the Steamboat Springs School Board might be buying itself an expensive lawsuit (or potentially a series of lawsuits) at the price of only marginally improved student security. Both the Fourth Amendment and Article II, section 7 of the Colorado Constitution protect high school students against encroachments by public school officials, including boards of education. Moreover, even under the Fourth Amendment's "special needs" jurisprudence, school officials must satisfy a three-pronged test in order to search students constitutionally. See Vernonia Sch. Dist. 47J v. Acton, 515 U.S. 616 (1995) (requiring school searches to be justified in reference to: (1) "the nature of the privacy interest upon which the search . . . intrudes;" (2) "the character of the intrusion that is complained of;" and (3) "the nature and immediacy of the governmental concern at issue, and the efficacy of the means for meeting it"). In applying this test, the Colorado Supreme Court has found suspicionless drug searches to be unconstitutional in slightly different contexts. See, e.g., Trinidad Sch. Dist. No. 1 v. Lopez, 963 P.2d. 1095 (Colo. 1998) (finding suspicionless urinalysis testing of all students involved in extracurricular activities to be unconstitutional in part because the challenged policy swept within its ambit all students enrolled for credit, regardless of whether they were demonstrated to have contributed to the drug problem in the district). While the instant program is arguably distinguishable with respect to the type of drug searches involved, the question of whether suspicionless drug dog sniffing is constitutional appears to remain both open and hotly contested under Tenth Circuit and Colorado jurisprudence. The ACLU has litigated this question in other jurisdictions, and has forced at least one school district (in Spokane, Washington) to abandon plans for a program remarkably similar to this one. Given the inherently controversial nature of this type of search, and the high profile that could be obtained by litigating this important and apparently unanswered constitutional question, I would not be surprised if the ACLU, or some other law firm, would litigate this case pro bono if the program proceeds as planned. Moreover, I question whether the Steamboat Springs School District would prevail in any such lawsuit absent compelling proof that SSHS faces the type of serious and endemic drug problems more commonly encountered in inner-city schools. In short, I question whether this proposed program is constitutional, and whether the cost involved in litigating it would outweigh any marginal increase in school security obtained by discouraging students from keeping drugs in their cars or lockers (as opposed to in their pockets, which would not be searched by the drug sniffing dogs).


playa46 8 years, 2 months ago

This could be an invasion of privacy. If we had reason to believe that someone is holding a drug in a locker, we would see lots of problems occurring. I'm not saying this is a bad idea, I just think we could have a better way of keeping kids out of trouble.

Also, we see this as a "suspicion less search", they have no warrant to invade or even a reason. This is different than what people would normally think.

Even if we did have this dog, kids would just come to school high, or simply get high at home. Nobody would be stupid enough to bring drugs to school.

What makes me angry is that nothing is being done about our alcohol problem in this town. Lots of students are getting busted for drinking, but they still get away with it. Alcohol kills more people than pot, so why do we invest all our time into a dog that stops kids with drugs, while other kids can simply get drunk and kill others while driving? (Assuming that the dog does catch people with drugs.)


jimbob311 8 years, 2 months ago

Drug sniffing dogs were used at Venice High School here in the Los Angeles Area and no students were impacted, however, 2 administrators weren't as fortunate.......


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