School board reviews drug-dog search at Medomak Valley
Union — Details of the recent drug-dog search and lock-down drill at Medomak Valley High School were discussed at the Nov. 4 meeting of the Maine School Administrative District 40 School Board at Union Elementary School.
On Oct. 25, during a lock-down drill, a K-9 unit of six dogs did a review of the school, said Superintendent Francis Boynton. The lock-down drill started after a morning break and lasted between 45 and 55 minutes, he said.
“During that time, the K-9 unit passed through the halls,” Boynton said.
Students were later released from their classrooms, and the K-9 unit went through the parking lot; students were not released outside during that search of the vehicles. He said no drugs were found in the search.
Boynton said last year, there were eight marijuana incidents at Medomak Valley, four other drug related problems, and 14 tobacco incidents. Boynton said the Oct. 25 search was not done based on a specific threat. He said school district policy allows searches on a random basis, without reasonable suspicion, and without notice or consent.
Gail Hawes of Union asked several questions about the procedure. She said she did not believe the search violated the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. Hawes’ questions were answered by Waldoboro Police Chief William Labombarde, high school Principal Harold Wilson and the superintendent.
The superintendent said there were 12 spots where the K-9 team detected drugs.
Wilson said once a double hit was made on a locker, he or Assistant Principal Andrew Cavanaugh emptied the locker and brought the materials to their offices. Then the user of the locker was taken out of his or her classroom.
Wilson said he searched the locker contents as well as the student’s backpack and personal possessions.
“And I would say, ‘I’ve got a reasonable suspicion you may be in violation of school rules,’” Wilson said. “I need to search your bag and have you empty your pockets.”
Wilson said he takes the Fourth Amendment seriously. “I don’t just go and open up lockers,” Wilson said. “I have to have a reasonable suspicion. I have to have credible information that comes to me that there might be something in that locker that violates school rules or the law ... and it’s got to be fresh information.”
Although no drugs were found Oct. 25, there was an apparent reason in some cases why the drug dogs made hits.
“Some of the clothing you could smell marijuana on,” Wilson said. He said those students were not under the influence at that time.
Hawes said she was concerned that there were 12 “false positives” from the search. The police chief responded.
“There may not be anything in a bag or in a locker, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t at some point a bag in the locker or drugs in the locker or drugs in the bag,” Labombarde said. “It may not even be from that student. But the remnants of the drug were at some point higher or lower, because the scent will permeate down.”
Labombarde said when one dog detects drugs, another dog will go past the locker.
“There was nothing there at that moment but there were drugs in that locker at some point,” Labombarde said.
Board member Carrie Chavanne of Washington asked how long it takes for the smell of drugs to dissipate from a locker.
“The smell that was in there was probably from September until now,” Labombarde said. “Because the janitors clean the lockers.”
Hawes said the way the search was conducted put suspicion on some students.
“My concern is how were the students treated,” Hawes said. “And we still also have innocent until proven guilty.” She said a parent was upset because the rumor mill will make everyone in town think a certain student uses drugs.
She also objected to calling it a drill. “This went from more of a drill to a drug-sniff search,” Hawes said. “That’s not a drill, that’s a procedure.”
The principal said it was important to call it a drill. “If I didn’t use the word drill, teachers would know it was the real thing,” Wilson said. “You have to have some way to communicate that to the staff to reduce the anxiety.”
Board member Kim Miller of Washington said it was appropriate to not alert staff because they need to learn how to react to emergency situations. “As far as having the drug search, I’m all for it,” Miller said. She said it was worthwhile if it keeps even one student from getting drugs.
Board member Sherrie Clark of Union asked if the dogs were trained in bomb detection. The police chief said they were drug-detecting and tracking dogs.
Board member Francis Cross of Waldoboro said he was amazed there were so few hits for possible drugs on campus. “The only problem I see, and I think you’re going to take care of it, is to make sure no student can be identified by the student body as being the one that has been searched,” Cross said. “So I think you’ll have to work on that component. I have no problem with the rest of it.”
Board member David Benner of Friendship asked if the names of the students that were searched were called on the loudspeaker. The superintendent said they were not.
But Hawes said, “When the principal walks into your classroom and says, ‘Suzie Doe, you need to come with me.’ they know. They all know.”
Benner said, “I’ve got a teenage daughter up there, you keep searching.”
Principal Wilson said, “I’d have to have reasonable suspicion. I take that seriously – Fourth Amendment rights.”
Board member Ronald Dolloff of Waldoboro said school administrators had to be right every time and balance civil rights with safety. “This is a double-edge sword,” Dolloff said. “I think each side knows that what they stand for is right. Nobody wants somebody coming in to our schools Columbine-style.”
Boynton said he met with a victim of the Columbine shootings at a recent superintendents convention. He said it was an emotional meeting. “You have to go through some of these drills to be ready to protect and save lives,” Boynton said.
Boynton said the death of a child is one of the most dramatic things a parent can face. “I will not let that happen,” Boynton said. “I will do everything I can to prevent that from happening. That’s what this drill was about. It was about the safety of our children. It was about keeping them safe and keeping drugs and the things that hurt children out of our schools.”
On Oct. 29, the Maine Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to SAD 40 to oppose the drug-dog search. “Students (and teachers) do not check their constitutional rights at the school house gate,” the MCLU wrote. “Students have a constitutionally-protected right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. If the searches during this training exercise were conducted without cause, they were conducted in contradiction to the spirit of the Constitution.”
Jeff Evangelos of Friendship, a former school administrator at SAD 40, also objected to the search. He said in an interview last week that the district policy also says students have constitutionally protected rights. Policy JI, which covers student rights and responsibilities, says students have “the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.”
The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution states, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”