The hallways of East Hampton High School may be sniffed out by a Suffolk County Police K-9 unit, due to a change in the school’s search and interrogation policy.
At last week’s East Hampton School Board meeting, members of the board agreed to amend the policy in response to concerned parents, who say there are drugs coming into the school.
School Board President Pat Hope said the board invited everyone to express their opinion on the issue of dog searches and received only positive responses—much different from when the topic came up a decade ago.
“I myself was surprised at this because I didn’t know … the same policy was suggested probably 10 years ago, but there was a small, but vociferous, body of taxpayers who spoke passionately against it and it was tabled,” she said this week. “On Tuesday night, parents passionately agreed with it.”
Suffolk County Police Lieutenant Brian Coltellino, the commanding officer of the K-9 unit, said that if East Hampton does go forward with a drug sweep, it would be unannounced and would be conducted only in school hallways, while students are in class.
“When we’re working, the halls are clear of students and teachers,” he said on Monday. “We bring our personnel, and the school provides someone from security and administration. The dogs are there just to sniff lockers. We don’t use them on people or inside the classroom.”
Ms. Hope said that students would be in a “semi-lockdown situation” and parents would be informed by Google mail or phone that the search is on.
“It will be carefully choreographed—teachers and students will not know but the principal and superintendent will,” she said, adding that the dogs should not come into contact with the students. “A person’s fear of dogs is very real—this is not an airport, this is a school building, where safety is a primary concern.”
If contraband is found, school staff would open the locker and remove the drugs, since the school owns the lockers, the locks and the combinations. Classrooms, individuals and the school parking lot cannot be searched, according to Lt. Coltellino.
“The school must notify students and parents that they have the policy in place and that students have no right of privacy or cannot have the expectation of privacy, but that lockers are for the convenience of students—to secure their school books and jackets,” he said. “Lockers are subject to search by school personnel. If there is any indication there may be contraband, school authorities will perform a search—we’re just providing a locating tool to the school.”
He said the dogs can sniff out the most common illicit drugs.
“Most of what kids are abusing out there we can find,” he said, adding that the most common drug found is marijuana.
The Suffolk County Police Department started offering drug sweeps in 2010 as a free service, which is possible because the K-9 unit officers use the searches as training for the dogs.
So far, the unit has done searches at approximately 13 different schools across the county, including at the Sag Harbor School District.
In 2012, Sag Harbor adopted a policy that would allow drug-sniffing dogs into Pierson High School to deter students from bringing illegal drugs to school. Lt. Coltellino said that no drugs were found in the school’s single drug sweep. Sag Harbor School Superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso did not return calls for comment this week, but Lt. Coltellino said that school officials seemed pleased with the initial search.
East Hampton School officials have reached out to Sag Harbor for guidance on their own policy, according to Ms. Hope.
Ms. Hope said that as at any high school, there are bound to be instances of marijuana and alcohol possession, but that at East Hampton High School it is not a rampant problem.
“There are parents who think it is rampant,” she said. “One or two parents expressed concern that there might be cocaine in the high school. I, personally, as a former teacher in the district, have never encountered any truth to this. Another board member said [bringing in drug-sniffing dogs] would be just a small change, but I personally believe it could be a very dramatic thought for a child involved with drugs.”