Concerns over contraband dog search at local middle school
When Shelly Rose got a call from Lyman Gilmore Middle School Principal Chris Roberts, in September, saying that her daughter had refused to participate in a random contraband dog search at her school, Rose was concerned for her daughter’s constitutional rights.
“She knew that her rights were being violated,” Rose said. “She knew that something did not feel right, she knew that this was not okay, so she yelled to them ‘You need to call my parents.’”
Roberts, however, said the contraband dogs are used as a form of public safety at the school to prevent drug use, and not something that violates anyone’s rights.
“It wasn’t a tremendous problem but it was enough for me to want to do something about it,” Roberts said. “I wanted to be more proactive about dealing with drugs on my campus, and I feel like the best way is to send a message to students that whether or not you’re doing it off campus, you’re not going to be doing it on campus.”
According to Roberts, for more than two years the school has used canine detection dogs from InterQuest Detection Canines, a Texas-based company that specializes in reducing the presence of drugs, alcoholic beverages, abused medications and weapons on campus and school grounds.
Roberts said a typical random visit consists of a dog and its handler randomly choosing to search between 15 and 20 different classrooms. An administrator from the school accompanies the dog and its handler to each classroom and asks the students to go out into the hall. The dog then does a 15 to 30 second sniff search of the classroom, and the handler notifies the teacher and administrator when it is safe to occupy the room again.
Roberts said that if a search provides a finding, the student and their parents are notified privately. Lyman Gilmore has previously done 10 random visits every year, but has since reduced the visits to just five per year.
Grass Valley School District Superintendent Eric Fredrickson said that the decision to use the contraband dogs came from the school’s administrators, and supported by the school board. Fredrickson said the district makes sure that the contraband dogs do not violate the rights of the parents or their children.
“It just sends a message to our community and our students that we take things seriously,” Fredrickson said. “That we want to make sure our schools are safe. It helps validate that we aren’t having those types of dangerous items in our school.”
Rose’s husband, Eric, though said that the contraband search intimidates the students and is unnecessary.
“Our daughter’s initial feeling when they tried to do this was fear. She thought something was happening at the school, she didn’t know what was going on,” Eric Rose said. “I asked the school if they are having a serious drug problem and they need to have these drug dogs to come in and treat all the kids like they’re guilty of something, to please provide me paper work proving that it’s necessary, and they haven’t yet.”
Roberts admits that in the past two years the dogs have had one finding, and in that instance a child was found with Aspirin residue in his back pack, after his parents used the bag for a camping trip days before the search.
“The fourth amendment says you have to have probable cause, and probable cause is reasonable grounds for making a search or pressing a charge,” Shelly Rose said. “And that also goes with reasonable suspicion, and reasonable suspicion must be based on specific and inarticulable facts. Not hunches.”
Eric Rose says he feels like the school is working through a loophole that allows them to search students with the dogs, without physically searching them.
“They’re saying that the dogs never come in contact with the kids,” Eric Rose said. “But my daughter said the dog is sitting at the door so every kid that walks by it’s sniffing. Whether it’s doing its job at the time, who knows, and then when everybody comes back in it’s at the door way, I mean within a foot of you.”
Roberts said that the school called parents last year, sent out flyers to their homes, and notified them through email about the contraband dogs, giving them information about the procedures and reasons why the school is using them. In the three school years Lyman Gilmore has conducted the random contraband searches, Roberts said, Shelly and Eric Rose have been the only parents who have had issues or complained about the procedure.
“Before we ever implemented this we really researched to make sure we were compliant with any types of laws or rights,” Fredrickson said. “And that’s why the kids are taken out and away from where the dogs are being searched. They only sniff items that are left in the classroom. There’s no approaching any human beings with that. So we’re really strict about that.”
Shelly Rose, though, cites several national court cases that she believes back up her opposition, including B.C. versus Plumas Unified School District which she says establishes that an institution should be going through a drug epidemic for the school to use contraband dogs.
“The scariest thing that people say is ‘Well if you don’t have anything to hide, then why are you not OK with it? If you don’t have anything then why not let them sniff?’” Shelly Rose said. “That is not OK, that is exactly how you have no rights whatsoever and end up falling down that very slippery slope.”
But for Roberts, the random contraband dog searches serve as a tool for what he as the principal believes should be the administration’s priority.
“It’s about safety, my number one job at this school, as much as I’d like it to be about academics, it has to be about keeping kids safe,” Roberts said. “I’ve got five children my self and of those kids my number one thing is when I send them to school I want them to be safe at school. Number two is that they get a great education. I don’t think many parents would disagree with that. This is just one measure we’re taking to keep kids safe.”
To contact Staff Writer Ivan Natividad, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4236.
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Readers around Grass Valley and Nevada County make The Union’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.
Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.
User Legend: Moderator Trusted User