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Drug dogs at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools 

You may have heard that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is proposing to bring in drug-sniffing police dogs to curb an increase in drug activity in the school system. Mark Price of The Charlotte Observer recently reported that the actual number of drug incidents last year was 543 students out of 133,774 enrolled, a 13-percent increase.

School officials are anxious to nip the issue in the bud, so they are attempting to use dogs to search desks, book bags, lockers, automobiles and other personal property. Students "linked" to the drugs will be subject to criminal prosecution. (The school board will host a second reading — which is open to the public — for the proposed strategy on Sept. 28. The board will vote on the policy in October.)

While I commend CMS officials for trying to get ahead of what appears to be a growing problem, I find it disconcerting that their approach involves the use of drug-sniffing police dogs as a remedy. Apparently, students will be in "lockdown" while the dogs are allowed to sniff the students' personal property. All students are subject to the search, not just those who are suspected of engaging in illegal activities. Searches will only take place with the approval of the superintendent, chief operating officer, and with a CMS police member on campus.

Is it just me or does this proposed policy seem to trample on the constitutional rights of students? To force students to relinquish book bags, purses, jackets, cars and other belongings to random inspections by drug-sniffing dogs could very well violate guarantees against unreasonable searches and seizures. I'm not a legal scholar by any stretch of the imagination, but it does appear that drug-sniffing dogs at schools is a slippery slope that CMS would not want to mess with, which may be why the practice was discontinued (sometime in the 1990s) in the first place.

WBTV reported that Randy Hagler of the CMS Law Enforcement Department stated that doing drug searches like this has been ruled constitutional because there is no "expectation of privacy" when a student does things like use a school locker or parks his or her car on a school campus. Why wouldn't a student expect privacy in his or her personal property like an automobile? If a student is pulled over by a police officer on his/her way to school, the police officer has to have probable cause to search the vehicle. Why wouldn't that law apply to a vehicle parked on school grounds?

While I get it — no one in his right mind wants students using drugs — trampling on their rights is wrong. Has CMS looked at the possible correlation between laying off school security staff and "behavior management technicians" last spring, who worked with troubled students, and the increase in drug activity on CMS campuses? What is the difference in the cost of using drug-sniffing police dogs and having proper security staffing at schools? Does CMS have other strategies in place to help curb the growth in drug activity — or is this it?

In my mind, there are far too many questions to put a policy like this in place. It is important to curb drug activity, but at what cost? Should schools resemble prisons in their treatment of students? Being on "lockdown" is not an educational or aspirational device. Why are individual rights being discarded as if they are unimportant? If we're teaching students about the U.S. Constitution and to value it, doesn't it fly in the face of those efforts when subjecting all students to search and seizure without probable cause? One could argue that the increase in drug activity is probable cause, but this is such a broad application of probable cause, one wonders how it could possibly stand up in court. Again, so many questions and very few answers.

Whenever there are more questions than answers, particularly when it comes to children — and teenagers are children — then I think it's best to exercise some restraint. More research needs to be done before CMS proceeds with a policy like this, which communicates to kids that they are guilty until proven innocent — which, quite frankly, is unacceptable and un-American.

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