April 03, 2013LITTLETON — With all four members in agreement, the school board will seek cooperation with law enforcement to institute random canine searches in district schools. With Chairperson Alison Bolt absent, Vice Chairperson Ann Wiggett presided over the meeting.
Superintendent Keith Pfeifer said that the effort would be "in conjunction with the state police and the Littleton police department." He said the district aims to keep its schools "free of drugs and other contraband."
He mentioned a recent meeting with Lt. Todd Landry, head of the North Country's state police Troop F. Three dogs would be available for the unannounced, random locker searches, Pfeifer said.
He added such searches are "commonly done in public high schools in New Hampshire." Of the canine search effort, Pfeifer said, "We find it preventive."
The district has an abiding interest in drug and alcohol prevention education, Pfeifer said. "We would like to keep this building and our students drug and alcohol free," he concluded. Educating kids about the dangers of illegal substances is a necessary part of the district's job, Pfeifer noted.
"It's our building and our lockers," Pfeifer said regarding the searches.
In 2007 the New Hampshire Supreme Court sided with a school official who went into a student's locker based on a complaint about possible drug items. That case noted a 1995 decision, State v. Drake, regarding power of school officials. That decision said administrators have an obligation to maintain a safe environment for students.
Pfeifer added that searches would only occur inside the school. He said, "We do have a lot of square footage here," which means law enforcement "will do as much as they can" on a day the searching would occur.
If a canine indicates possible contraband, Pfeifer said a form ED 317 would be filled out. This form, according to the Department of Education website, covers "Report of theft, destruction, or violence in a safe school zone to local law enforcement agency."
Instructions on the form require a school employee and supervisor to report the incident immediately. The school principal is then required to file the report with local law enforcement within 48 hours of the incident.
The form includes space to report the details of the incident, as well as the suspect. Use of the form is required under state statute at RSA 193-D:4.
School board member Barbara Astone was interested in student perspective. Student Representative Olivia Paradice replied, "Most people don't really have much to hide." She reported that she has not heard complaints from students about any random locker searches.
Paradice added lockers would not be opened and student belongings would not looked at without a hint from the canine. This has led students to accept the general idea of random locker searches.
Resident Rudy Gelsi expressed concern about the policy. He asked the board about the legality of the move, and whether parents would be informed.
Pfeifer said that parents would not know what time or day the searching would take place. Students would be in classes during the searches, Pfeifer added.