‘Sniffer dogs’ to be used at high school, junior high

The attempt by the Archuleta School District 50 Joint to sniff out contraband in area schools has gone to the dogs — literally.

Presenting at Tuesday’s school board meeting, Pagosa Springs High School assistant principal Sean O’Donnell unveiled a plan by school officials to run “sniffer dogs” through the Pagosa Springs High School and junior high in a random search for drugs and other contraband.

The dogs, labrador retrievers handled by Interquest Detection Canines, a Houston, Texas, company with a local field office in Bennett, Colo., are trained to detect not only drugs but also gunpowder in all forms (i.e. guns, bullets, firecrackers, etc.), alcohol, and medicine. O’Donnell said the dogs will make 10 random searches through the schools during the school year.

Students at both the high school and junior high were assembled to see how the dogs work — and get fair warning that lockers and backpacks are subject to search should the dogs alert on questionable material. However, the dogs will not be allowed to turn their attention to students, O’Donnell said.

Should the dogs alert to something questionable (the dogs signify this by sitting down), state law allows for a search based on “reasonable suspicion.” If the search reveals illegal contraband, the contraband is confiscated by school officials, who will then determine the course of action to take.

“Everything illegal is referred to law enforcement,” O’Donnell said in a phone interview, “but that doesn’t necessarily mean an arrest will be made. O’Donnell added that each case is examined on an individual basis.

When asked how prescription medications are handled, O’Donnell was clear that the district has specific protocols when it comes to students requiring prescription medication during school hours. According to O’Donnell, parents are required to notify the office of the child’s school regarding medication and, depending on the medication, may be required to provide doctor’s orders. Any student in possession of medication not cleared by the school could potentially face disciplinary action or even arrest.

“We’re trying to be proactive, trying to provide a deterrent,” O’Donnell said, adding that with notes going out to all parents, no one in the district should be caught unaware by the district’s attempts to clean up the schools.

Any student not heeding the warning and careless enough to bring contraband to school could find themselves, figuratively, in the doghouse.

jim@pagosasun.com