Parents Question SDUSD Use of Drug-Sniffing Dog

While the parents and students around the tables shared the desire to rid schools of drugs, they disagreed with the district's approach

In a meeting to discuss the use of a drug-sniffing dog in the San Diego Unified School District, parents demanded specific details but administrators were short on answers.

The parents’ concerns included the desire for more transparency and what some described as less militarization of the city’s school campuses.

Drug-sniffing dogs have been used on campuses since 2002, San Diego Unified Police Chief Rueben Littlejohn told parents at a meeting arranged by one concerned parent.

In those instances, outside agencies have provided the canines to the district.

However, 19-month old German Shepard Blitz is the first such trained canine purchased by the school administration for random searches of classrooms and kids’ books and bags.

San Diego High Principal of International Studies Carmen Garcia's explanation of the process conflicted with the current district drug search policy.

Garcia told parents that Blitz has visited two campuses with her school's complex - Business and Leadership and Science and Technology - and targeted classrooms that had been randomly selected.

“The principal goes into the room and says everyone could you step out of the room for a moment,” Garcia said.

When NBC 7 reporter Dave Summers pointed out that SDUSD policy states children must leave the classroom and their belongings voluntarily, not by demand, Garcia and Littlejohn did not respond.

The contradiction was not addressed.

Littlejohn said San Diego High School led the district in calls for service regarding drug activity in the 2013-2014 school year.

Several parents were concerned about lack of respect for students' rights.

“I just don't think it is a healthy environment. It seems like a continuation of militarizing our schools, one parent said.

“If it's supposed to be a deterrent then why don't you tell people what's going to happen. How can you make a deterrent and keep it a secret that's counterproductive,” parent Ernie Villafranca asked.

Parent Brett Pickering asked, “Is there any data that says having dogs on campus improves the safety perception of students."

Pickering also pointed out that an email notifying parents of the new policy included no point of contact at San Diego High School for those parents who may have had questions or concerns. Out of courtesy NBC7 approached Principal Garcia at the end of the meeting and asked if she knew the current drug search policy, she replied let's just say we all need better clarification about this program.

Garcia pointed out that the complex serves 2600 students with four separate campuses.

“This is an effort that all four administrators on this campus decided to embrace in an attempt to make our campus safe,” Garcia said.

District Trustee Richard Barrera, who attended the meeting, said it was the superintendent’s decision to purchase Blitz on the recommendation of the district's principals.

There is no outside oversight of the program the only people who will know when and how the dog is used are the principals and police.

Barrera suggested a task force be created including educators, police, parents and students to get involved in the policy.

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