The Sag Harbor Schools Superintendent on whether drug sniffing dogs should be brought into Pierson High School and if there is a drug problem at the school.
By Claire Walla
Earlier this month the Suffolk County Police Department offered all public high schools in the area the opportunity to bring drug-sniffing dogs onto school grounds. Pierson Principal Jeff Nichols initially spoke out against the idea, claiming it might breach a level of trust between students, and teachers and administrators. But you were in favor of the idea, even saying that you have brought drug-sniffing dogs onto other campuses where you have been superintendent. What are the arguments for bringing drug-sniffing dogs to Pierson?
I understand principal Nichols’ point that there’s an issue of trust; you don’t want to discourage students from reporting anything to teachers or administrators. But I think [school board member] Dan Hartnett made a good point: the issue is safety. This is a preventative measure, like a fire drill. We don’t wait until there’s a fire to have a fire drill. It is a proactive safety measure. If a student hits another student because of drugs, would we then bring dogs in?
How many times have you brought drug-sniffing dogs to campuses as superintendent?
I’ve worked at four different school districts and I probably brought in dogs at least a dozen times. But when I used drug-sniffing dogs in the past, the parents were happy and kids were happy because they viewed it as an attempt to keep them safe.
All students were happy?
The majority of them. Kids who don’t do drugs don’t care [if drug-sniffing dogs are on the campus]. The kids who take drugs care.
What happened when you brought dogs to some of the other schools where you were the superintendent?
Sometimes the dogs would find residue in a backpack that had had marijuana in it, but no drugs were ever found. If a student was caught with drugs, then that’s a crime and the police would deal with it. But, if we found residue in a backpack, I would call that students’ parents and say, from one parent to another, you might want to know about this. Sometimes we found a bong, a pipe or some drug paraphernalia, and police would confiscate it, then we would tell the student’s parents.”
Were any of the instances when you brought in drug-sniffing dogs at other schools prompted by incidences?
No, they were all preventative measures. And the boards in all of those situations said that it was a good idea.
In the past, did you bring drug-sniffing dogs onto school grounds during school hours, or after?
They were all during school hours. I made it very visible because I wanted them to know that we were bringing in dogs. The first time I did it, some students rushed to the bathroom and flushed things down the toilet. But the dogs never found anything on the kids.
Did the dogs ever enter any classrooms?
Sometimes we sent the dogs through the classrooms. But, again, they never found anything on the kids.
At this point, do you think it would be better to bring dogs to Pierson during or after school hours?
It wouldn’t make any difference; it only matters whether students are aware of it happening or not.
How does this community compare to the others where you worked?
This community is more affluent than any of those. So, theoretically, it could be that there’s more of a problem here because there are more drugs available.
Is there a drug problem here?
Why do you think Suffolk County Police made the offer? They recognized a problem and want to be preventative. Is there a problem [at Pierson]? I don’t know. One could conjecture that there’s a problem here because of the ability to buy … but that’s just a conjecture.
It all comes back to being preventative. I want to err on the side of keeping kids safe.