Detection dogs to make sweeps at Union High School
BY KIM ARCHER World Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 08, 2013
1/08/13 at 8:02 AM
Dogs who can sniff out firearms, alcohol and drugs soon will be making random sweeps at Union High School as part of the district's efforts to provide another layer of school safety.
"We're continually looking at ways to create a safer learning environment," said Chuck Perry, Union Public Schools' director of secondary education.
The decision to employ a detection dog service was not a response to the mass school shooting in Newtown, Conn., last month. The Union school board approved the program in November after months of analysis by a district safety committee, he said.
Broken Arrow, Jenks and Owasso already use detection dogs.
Union hired Providence Working Canines Inc., which has a Tulsa location, to make unannounced sweeps at the high school 20 times this semester.
Even administrators and teachers don't know when the dogs will come to campus, Perry said.
"Right now, we're starting with the largest campus. The high school has 3,000-plus students, so we felt like that would be a good starting ground. The purpose is a safer and drug-free environment," he said.
The cost for this semester is $8,000. The district will reassess the program over the summer and determine whether it should be renewed for next year and whether to expand to other schools.
Administrators expect that the sweeps will serve as a deterrent to students, who have been made aware of the impending unannounced sweeps.
"They (the dogs) don't sniff students directly. They make sweeps through parking lots, restrooms, cafeterias, classrooms, ... basically any common area," Perry said.
When the dogs sweep through classrooms, students will be instructed to exit the room and leave behind their backpacks and other belongings, he said.
If a dog detects a firearm, drugs or alcohol, the dog will sit down to indicate that. The handler then will turn that information over to an administrator, and it will be investigated just as any regular school infraction, Perry said.
In addition, the student will be called in and his or her parent will be notified.
Under state law, districts must suspend for a full year any student who brings a firearm to campus. The district also notifies law enforcement authorities when a firearm is found on school property.
"We're not in a mode of 'let's catch somebody.' We really want to help these kids," Perry said.
The program will help the school zero in on students who need mental-health counseling or addiction counseling. Those students will be provided referrals to necessary services, he said.
The detection dog program is an example of the proactive approach Union takes in securing its schools, he said.
Student learning and graduation rates can be maximized only within a safe school environment, Perry said.
"The biggest thing is making a statement to patrons, staff and students that we're committed to having the safest possible learning environment we can have," he said.
Original Print Headline: School to get detection dogs
Kim Archer 918-581-8315