The Thomaston-Upson Board of Education unanimously approved a budget amendment to add $3,000 for the use of a drug-sniffing dog program at the high school and middle school. The action came at their Dec. 11 meeting.
Board member Keith Rohling brought the issue up, stating that dating back to when his kids were in high school, students who may have been suspected of bringing drugs to school always seem to be absent whenever law enforcement drug-sniffing dogs come in.
“I’m not saying anything about our local law enforcement or anything like that,” said Rohling, “but no matter how you talk about it or make arrangements for it, somebody is going to find out.”
Rohling noted that he had talked with representatives of Interquest Detection Canines of Georgia at the recent state conference for Board of Education members and found their method of conducting drug searches in schools to be more private.
“In talking to them, it is not if you can keep it quiet, it is just not talking about it at all,” he said. “Their process is they get the dates we don’t want them in the schools, and all the rest are fair game. Until they show up, you won’t know. I like that idea.”
Greg Holder, a Client Manager with Interquest, was present at the meeting and explained the process more to the BOE members.
“What we do is, we’ll show up at the high school and do a period’s worth of classrooms,” said Holder. “We’ll have the administrators pick the classrooms. Then there is usually about two and a half extra hours of doing parking lots and commons areas – bathrooms, lockers, locker rooms – any areas you want me to go. It is enough time to get a really broad view of the school and let everybody see.
“Granted, when I show up and walk in that front door and they first see me, everybody in the school knows in about five minutes, and that’s okay. If they’re going to dump their belongings, we’re going to find it, or they’re going to flush it down the toilet and then it is not in your school anymore and you’ve really ruined their day, because they are not getting it back.”
Holder stated that Interquest normally does an assembly with the students in the school first, to let them know what to expect.
“The most important part of our program is the assembly, because everything in our program is not geared to be a surprise. We want the students to be completely aware of absolutely everything that we’re doing, except for the day that we’re showing up. That is the only thing that has to be a surprise. So the most effective part of our program is when we get to come in, speak to the students first, tell them who we are, what we do. I bring Copper along with me. We bring him because he is cute and obedient, and we do a demonstration. We talk about what we can find and what the process is when we show up. That way everybody has a visual buy-in to the program and can see that it actually works.”
Board member Angie McGill asked if the drug detection program could also be used at the middle school.
Holder replied that it can, and that actually, they find the assembly can work better at the middle school level because it gets the students thinking about what could happen sooner.
“We believe our program is very effective at the middle school level. You can get to a middle school and teach a sixth grader that it is not okay to bring the stuff to school, then by the time they are seniors, they never think about bringing it to school.
“Where we get most of our alerts are at the high school level,” Holder noted. “Where we get alerts at the middle school level are not what we would call major alerts. Our dogs find not just drugs; they find alcoholic beverages, gun powder, and medication, and generally, a middle school student does not have access to medication, guns, firecrackers, or alcoholic beverages as much as a high school student would.
“We believe our program is much more effective at the middle school level than at the high school level, but it does take a good amount of effectiveness to be realized in terms of your results, as the sixth graders move up into the high school level.”
Cost of the program is $425 a visit, and Holder suggested that since half the school year is already gone, that they think about doing one assembly and search at the middle school, one assembly and three searches at the high school, and one search at the alternative school. Alternative school students could be bused to the high school to take part in the assembly. The total would be $2,975.
Board chair Terrell Jackson echoed the sentiments of the BOE by stating he thought the program would be worthwhile.
“I think this is a great idea - money well spent,” said Jackson. “And I like the idea that we’re not trying to catch them. What we’re trying to do is keep them from being caught at school.”
Rohling made a motion to amend the budget to add $3,000 to cover the assemblies and searches. Board vice chair Jacqueline Hollis seconded the motion and it was approved, 7-0.