Rio Americano High School administrators are gauging the appetite for drug-sniffing dogs on campus by soliciting email responses from parents.
Principal Brian Ginter said Friday that some parents in recent years have expressed interest in trained dogs as a way to discourage drugs on the Wilhaggin campus in suburban Sacramento County.
“This time, parents came forward, very interested, willing to be proactive to make sure we don’t have drugs on campus,” Ginter said. The parents asked that other parents be polled, and he sent emails Tuesday to the families of Rio Americano’s approximately 1,600 students.
San Juan Unified already has a policy that allows specially trained, non-aggressive dogs to sniff out substances prohibited by law, but the district isn’t using them, according to spokeswoman Kim Minugh.
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The policy says dogs can sniff around lockers, desks and vehicles on campus or at district-sponsored events. It bars dogs from being used near students without consent.
Ginter said a Rio Americano program need not be punitive. “Anything that you find is just information for parents,” he said.
Parents and students at Rio Americano on Friday offered a range of reactions.
Melanie Ripley, whose sons are in their freshman and senior years, said the family is squarely behind the idea.
“Anytime the school takes extra measures, I think it’s fabulous,” Ripley said.
But Diana Collingwood, whose son is a junior, said she believes the dogs would be excessive.
“I think the students are going to think it’s an invasion of their privacy,” Collingwood added. “And the more I think about it, the more I think I don’t like it.”
Some students agreed.
“I absolutely think that’s a bad idea,” said Ahmad Aldarwish, 17, a junior. “I don’t like any German shepherds or any police dogs on campus. That’s a big violation of school privacy, and it scares a lot of students away. I don’t think drugs are an issue in this school.”
But junior Danielle Young, 16, said students bring drugs on campus and use them. “Kids aren’t focusing on their academics,” she said.
Ginter said Rio Americano’s drug problems are no worse than other schools, and may be somewhat better.
“If you’re on a high school campus, there are drugs,” he said.
Other Sacramento County school districts have used drug-sniffing dogs in different ways.
Folsom Cordova Unified has been using drug-detection dogs in random searches at all of its high schools in recent years, spokesman Daniel Thigpen said. The dogs, on occasion, go into empty classrooms, he said. But none sniffs students.
“All of our schools have used it very sparingly,” Thigpen said.
Elk Grove Unified has used law enforcement drug-sniffing dogs for the last nine years in random visits to high schools as part of a comprehensive safety program. Those searches can lead to suspension, expulsion or arrest, the district said at the start of the program.
And just down the street from Rio Americano, the all-boys Jesuit High School uses drug-detection dogs, according to the school’s website.
But Sacramento City Unified has none, according to spokesman Gabe Ross.
Ginter’s email advised parents that the school is considering a drug education and prevention program that could include a program for “random searches of the school with drug dogs.”
The idea, he said, was to gather opposing arguments to inform the parents who have pushed for the program. By Tuesday, he had 50 responses, 10 in support. Many had questions.
Some parents were concerned that dogs would be sniffing students and “targeting certain kids,” Ginter said. He said that would not happen. “Dogs and students never shall meet,” he said. “Dogs do not sniff actual kids.
“Kids are in class. Doors are shut. Locker areas and open space are searched.”
And while some emails said a dog-detection program would be viewed as a negative for the campus, Ginter thought the approach could be a plus for students.
“I see these programs as proactive in trying to keep illegal drugs off campus,” he said.
Call The Bee’s Loretta Kalb, (916) 321-1073. Follow her on Twitter @LorettaSacBee.