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ABSS will allow law enforcement’s drug-sniffing dogs to conduct random searches in middle and high schools

K-9 “officers” can detect illegal drugs, explosives, firearms, fire accelerants, and/or other illegal materials; use instituted by interim superintendent

Dogs will be patrolling the halls of Alamance-Burlington middle and high schools within the next few weeks.

Interim ABSS superintendent Dr. James (“Jim”) Merrill announced Monday night that dogs will be used to conduct random, unannounced searches for any potential contraband at the middle and high schools over the next several weeks.

Known as “K-9 officers,” these dogs are trained to detect illegal drugs, explosives, fire accelerants, and/or other illegal materials. The K-9 officers are statutorily required to be accompanied by sworn law enforcement officers who are certified K-9 handlers.

“I have asked law enforcement jurisdictions that have officers in our schools to walk the dogs through our middle and high schools,” Merrill said during the school board’s meeting Monday night.  “These dogs are trained to smell controlled substances.

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“Our policy states, and this is important for me to read: ‘Regarding the use of trained dogs, with the prior approval of the superintendent, and in conjunction with local law enforcement, school officials may use trained dogs to locate illegal materials,’” the interim superintendent elaborated.

“‘All dogs must be accompanied by a certified and authorized trainer who is responsible for the dog’s actions and is able to verify the dog’s reliability and accuracy in sniffing out illegal material,’” Merrill said, quoting a school board policy that provides for the use of K-9s to detect contraband in schools, as also codified in state law.

“‘Trained dogs may sniff lockers, desks, bookbags, motor vehicles, and other inanimate objects,’” Merrill said, quoting the ABSS policy.  “‘Dogs may not be used to sniff students or other persons under any circumstances.  No student should be present during a dog search.  Before a search occurs in a classroom, students will be moved to a location outside the room or at a time when the room is vacant.’”

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A decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1985 established that drug searches in K-12 schools do not violate students’ right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizure under the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution.

In a 4-3 decision, the justices acknowledged in New Jersey v. T.L.O. provides Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures for students in K-12 schools.

But the Supreme Court majority also concluded that the principal had not violated the juvenile defendant’s constitutional rights by searching her purse because he had “reasonable suspicion” that the juvenile defendant had violated a school policy and/or had committed a crime. (The initials T.L.O. were used to protect the privacy of a then 14-year-old high school freshman at the center of the case, which originated in Piscataway, New Jersey in March 1980 after two girls were caught smoking in the bathroom at their high school.)

Within Alamance County, as reported earlier this year, the sheriff has six canine units, Burlington police have four, Graham has one, and Mebane has just re-started its canine unit with two dogs.

Read the newspaper’s editorial page opinion on the new policy:

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