The Aurora Public Schools in Colorado is under fire after a drug-sniffing K-9 detected marijuana edibles in a student’s backpack and the student was later tackled by school security when he ran, Chalkbeat reports. The use of drug-sniffing K-9s is standard procedure in the district.
Both teachers and students voiced their concerns at a recent school board meeting. This year, the district has had 28 searches, with 26 of them resulting in drug detections. Last year, the district had 26 searches, but only three led to drug detections.
When drugs are detected, school officials are to subtly pull students aside. In this case, the student (who has an individualized education program) ran, which led to the tackling. Critics of the drug-sniffing dog exercise feel that it crosses a line and stokes a hostile school culture.
While preventing substance abuse at school is part of creating a safe school climate, it's clear there are a range of opinions on the use of drug-sniffing dogs. The ACLU of Washington cites the fact that drug dogs are only 70% reliable, which can lead to students being wrongfully accused. The state supreme court there ruled that it is unconstitutional for a school to search a large group of students without suspicion because it violates the privacy clause of the state constitution.
The U.S. Supreme Court, however, has ruled in favor of public schools testing students if they are athletes or involved in other extracurricular activities like band or theater. Shortly after the ruling in 2008, about 16% of school districts had a drug-testing program.
The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend drug testing of students because there is lack of evidence as to whether or not it actually deters students from using drugs. While it may prevent students from trying drugs, students that do use illegal substances often know how to beat the tests.
School drug testing can also affect a school’s culture. Along with video surveillance and other prison-like tactics, drug testing creates an environment that pits the administration against the students. Ideally, teachers, principals and counselors would be working with students to choose to avoid drugs, especially at school. Drug-sniffing dogs, video surveillance and drug testing are designed to keep schools safe from drugs and violence, but may be robbing students’ of their privacy and the opportunity to make their own choices and learn from their mistakes.