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Thursday, January 29, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 31.0° F  Overcast
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Madison school district seeks input on drug-sniffing dogs
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Howard sees the drawbacks.
Howard sees the drawbacks.

The Madison Metropolitan School District has begun seeking parent and community ideas regarding a plan to allow K-9 drug sweeps in the city's middle schools and high schools.

"We're going through the process," says school board president James Howard. "The community may be so overwhelmingly against it that it isn't possible."

Board policy 4400, expected to be voted on in September, would allow principals at Madison's middle and high schools to request a sweep using drug-sniffing dogs. The superintendent would have to authorize it.

Under the proposal, the sweeps would occur only in common areas and in the parking lots while students were in class. Unless left in lockers or in vehicles parked in school lots, personal items like backpacks and purses would not be subject to sweeps.

According to numbers provided by the school district, of 1,300 English-speaking parents who responded to the calls, 991 support the proposal. Calls to Spanish-speaking and Hmong parents haven't yet been made.

At press time, over 400 people had responded to an online poll, with over 250 registering support for the proposal.

Several other school districts in Dane County already use drug-sniffing dogs. Howard says the option of bringing dogs into schools would have a deterrent effect, adding that just because the school district has that option doesn't mean it would necessarily exercise it.

District safety coordinator Luis Yudice says that drug and alcohol violations of the student code have increased 60% over the last four years.

"What I'm hearing from the high schools is that more kids are coming back from lunch high, and more kids are in possession of drugs," he says. "We need to do more prevention rather than wait until students are caught."

But if students know they won't be personally searched, won't they simply bring drugs with them to class?

"People who are determined to bring drugs to school will do it," says Yudice. "But there will be a higher risk."

The ACLU of Wisconsin has taken notice of the proposal, saying there are lines of reason when using search dogs.

"The presence of dogs in schools where students are present has a clearly intimidating effect," says Stacy Harbaugh, ACLU communications strategist. "The community should ask itself if it wants to make all students feel like criminals."

Howard acknowledges that there are drawbacks, including the perception of having problems that don't actually exist.

"Once you okay having dogs in schools, people might think Madison schools are the drug havens some critics say we are," he says.

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