Pleasanton school board OKs drug-sniffing dogs at high schools | January 27, 2012 | Pleasanton Weekly | |

Pleasanton Weekly

News - January 27, 2012

Pleasanton school board OKs drug-sniffing dogs at high schools

Won't begin until policy is in place

by Glenn Wohltmann

Drug-sniffing dogs will be coming to Pleasanton's three high schools -- but not until the end of February at the earliest.

The school board approved a modified plan Tuesday night that would bring the dogs to high school campuses at the request of a principal, but only after a search is signed off by Superintendent Parvin Ahmadi or someone she designates.

The month delay is to allow the board to establish written policy that would allow for the canine searches. Neighboring school districts in Dublin and Livermore have such policies.

Despite the approval, hesitation remained from some board members. Board President Joan Laursen, for one, said she never envisioned herself as having to make such a choice.

"There are going to be some unusual circumstances that come up," Laursen said, bringing up a parent with a medical marijuana card as an example.

Board Member Valerie Arkin pushed for other efforts, such as the recent forums on drug and alcohol abuse, to continue and called for a revamping of the schools' DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) programs. She also suggested creating an anonymous posting section on the school district's website where messages could be posted, similar to the telephone/text tip line already in place.

Arkin, who also worried that students who carpool with others could be wrongly accused, asked for a report after the first canine search sweep is done and follow ups to track the plan's effectiveness.

Board Member Jamie Hintzke questioned the accuracy of the dogs' sniffing abilities.

Board members agreed that use of the dogs to sweep parking lots and gym lockers should be only part of a "multi-pronged approach."

"I really view this as one of many, many tools," said Board Member Chris Grant.

Board Member Jeff Bowser opposed the motion to delay implementation of the drug dogs, which Foothill Principal John Dwyer, who proposed the plan, called "the canine protection plan."

Bowser said there was "a sense of urgency" in getting the plan up and running, noting that some kids who may have drugs in their cars are likely to be using them and driving.

Student Board Member Shreya Gupta weighed in as well. Gupta said conversations with other students led to conflicting thinking about the plan. She said some students opposed the plan because they thought the searches would be a breach of their civil liberties, while she and others think schools will be safer if kids left their drugs at home.

Gupta said some also worried that a student could get arrested if he or she had driven an intoxicated friend home.

The board will hold two meetings, on Feb. 14 and 28, to approve new board policy on the use of drug dogs.

"We have a problem in our schools," said Ahmadi. "We can always do a better job of letting students know that if they have drugs, they're going to be searched."

Kevin Johnson, senior director of pupil services, said that while suspensions and expulsions are trending downward, drug- and alcohol-related suspensions are the only ones on the rise. He also assured Gupta that principals would investigate each accusation on a case-by-case basis and pointed out that alcohol is not one of the substances the dogs can detect.

At a Foothill parents' meeting last week, one parent questioned why they weren't made aware of the plan before reading about it in the news, while school officials thought the searches would not include teachers' lots. Johnson had said earlier that those lots would be part of the searches, with the goal of keeping all drugs off campuses

In other business at Tuesday's meeting, the school board heard that the best it can hope for is a cut of $150,000 in its upcoming budget. Luz Cazares, assistant superintendent of business services, noted once again that the recently released budget contains risky assumptions, including banking on the idea that Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed tax increase will pass in a November election. Cazares said even so, the money Brown budgeted is more than estimates say the taxes will bring in.

She said state officials are telling districts to assume the increase will pass, but to have a contingency plan.

"If the taxes do not come through, we are looking at a cut of $5-1/2 million," Cazares told the board.

The district has to prepare a budget to be passed by June, but layoff notices, likely based on the worst-case scenario, must go out by May. The district has opened negotiations with the teachers' union; those negotiations will include salaries, class sizes, hours of employment, the calendar, retirement and health benefits.

Board members also unanimously approved improvement plans for three schools in an effort to close their achievement gaps.

Valley View Elementary Principal Raphael Cruz told the board his school, which is under state mandate to improve grades for Hispanic students and English learners, has begun interventions for below and far below basic reading skills. Cruz said Valley View has started offering special instruction to those students in school and after school.

Pleasanton Middle School is in its second year of state-mandated improvements. Vice Principal Lisa Hague said the school is continuing its interventions and has begun an after-school math academy as well.

Amador Valley High School Vice Principal Stephanie Ceminsky said her school is committed to a 2% increase in proficiency for math and English learners and an increase of 5% for students working below grade level in algebra and geometry. Ceminsky said Amador will use online study and tutoring to help students improve.


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