Parkway officials are moving toward plans to bring drug-sniffing dogs to the district's high schools.
The Parkway School Board heard details of the plan at the district’s high schools in January at a board meeting Wednesday night. Parkway Deputy Superintendent Desi Kirchhofer presented the board with a report and explained that the program is an addition to the many safety and security measures the district already employs.
“This isn’t a stand alone, it’s packaged with a lot of measures that we use to keep our schools and safe drugs free,” Kirchhofer said.
The searches would be coordinated by the principals at the district’s five high schools and conducted twice a semester by the St. Louis County Police. Principals can choose to have the canines search school hallways or the student parking lot while students themselves remain in classrooms.
“Dogs will never search or sniff a student specifically, they will just sniff the air,” said Coordinator of Student Discipline Michael Barolak, who also helped present the report.
If a dog “alerts” to a scent, then the school administrator and resource officer will have probable cause to conduct a more thorough investigation. At that point, the district will follow the guidelines and policies it already has in place regarding searches of student belongings.
The goal is to have the drug-sniffing dogs in schools next semester, but the board took no formal action on the matter at Wednesday’s meeting. The next step will be Superintendent Marty to draft a letter to parents in the district explaining the program.
“We have already shared it with a lot of our stakeholders,” Barloak said. “A lot of people think it’s a positive step forward.”
The true effectiveness of the program might not be in its ability to actually find drugs, according to Barolak and Kirchhofer. After Board President Beth Feldman pointed out that most students don’t even use their lockers at Parkway, Barolak said the presence of the dogs alone could have an impact.
“The parking lot searches might make the students think twice about bringing drugs to school if they see the dogs in the parking lot,” he said.
Kirchhofer added that the searches actually provide an excuse for students under peer pressure as well, who can use the threat of being discovered as a cover for not wanting to use drugs.
In speaking with the county police officers who conduct the K-9 searches, Barolak said that only 10 percent of the time do the dogs even detect a scent. Even then, 90 percent of the time it’s just a trace smell with no actually substances found.
The dogs also do not detect alcohol or prescription drugs, the latter of which is becoming increasingly abused by teenagers. Kirchhofer said the district is educating parents about the potential for painkillers and other prescriptions to be abused as well as helping sponsor events for disposing of pills safely.
Overall, the pair of school officials said they hope the message it brings is to show parents, students and the community that Parkway takes fighting the abuse of drugs and alcohol among teens as a serious issue.