K-9 Units at Peninsula Area High Schools Pass the Sniff Test

Peninsula School District is going to the dogs … to sniff out illicit narcotics.

The area’s three high schools — Gig Harbor, Peninsula and Henderson Bay — will begin getting random visits by a drug-detecting K-9 unit from either the Gig Harbor Police Department or the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office, looking for the identifiable odor of drugs. According to a school district official, the dogs won’t be checking students, but will roam halls, lockers and parking lots. When the dog alerts to an area, the school principal will be notified.

A first-time offense will result in a 15-day suspension (and hopefully some counseling and follow-up, although that wasn’t made clear) and a second offense would warrant a more harsh response.

A story like this quickly separates people into one of two camps:

It’s a Good Thing: Drugs may be prevalent in our society, but they have no place in public schools. Although this kind of proactive measure won’t eliminate drugs entirely from school campuses or even change the nature of the drug culture, it does send the message to users and dealers that school grounds should be like the signs say at the school entrances: A drug-free zone. And if a kid doesn’t have drugs at school, they have nothing to fear.

It’s a Bad Thing: Bringing drug dogs in is one more step in eroding our basic human rights. This isn’t a case of investigating a specific report of someone carrying drugs; it’s more a dragnet attempt that will only serve to nab the small-time recreational drug user. The dogs aren’t trained to alert to many drugs out there so the result will be minimally effective at best. It just moves the drug problem to another location.

As a parent of two students who will soon be roaming the halls of high school, I must say I tend to agree more with the former, with just a smidgeon of the latter.

I don’t kid myself: This one gesture won’t halt the drug use that is common in our kids’ culture. But it does show that the district isn’t just paying lip service when they say they have a zero tolerance of drugs. It is, indeed, a proactive stance to establish the schools as a safe zone designed for learning — not dealing or using.

Critics charge that the lessons of drug use fall upon the parents. Most assuredly it does. But it shouldn’t stop there. Schools see our children for more waking hours than the parents during the week, so any influence the schools can add to support the message of the parents is only going to help. And for some students who don’t get or have the parental support, the message the school imparts may be the only positive message to stay away from drugs that they hear.

But this isn’t just a message that drugs are bad. It’s a life lesson that there can be consequences for the actions you take. Want to carry your stash to class in your backpack? Then you risk a suspension, a possible arrest and more.

The hardest lesson to teach your child is to allow them to make a wrong decision and then face the consequences that result. But it often results in the best lasting effect. Now before you write in, I’m not advocating you let your child try drugs. I’m saying that we can’t always coddle/protect our children from the big, bad world out there. If we want them to be functioning, capable humans, then as some point we must equip them with the tools to make choices on their own, as well as teach them to accept the results that follow those choices.

As parents, we’ve been teaching the lesson about drugs  to our kids since they were tiny — using each opportunity as a teaching moment to point out the dangers/follies/idiocy of drug use. But we also teach our children to be true to their own self — to learn to make decisions on their own. And with self-reliance comes ownership of your choices and the consequences.

Will my children choose to try drugs? Maybe, maybe not. But even if one of them does, I hope that at that moment my words come echoing through their brain and they make the right choice.

In the meantime, I applaud the school district and the law enforcement agencies for taking a proactive stance in helping parents to send home the message in a clear and visible way: Drugs and their use have no place in our schools.