Surprise visits by drug-sniffing dogs to Santa Barbara Unified School District high schools will be a program of the past as administrators at Tuesday evening’s Board of Education meeting revealed that “it’s been intrusive” and has had “minimal impact” on deterring students from bringing drugs to school or showing up under the influence, according to Assistant Superintendent of Student Services Frann Wageneck. When the program started during the 2012-13 school year, 14 percent of anonymously polled students said they’d used drugs or alcohol on campus or showed up intoxicated; also, there was a three-year average of 260 drug/alcohol-related student infractions. Four years later, those numbers are 11 percent and 242, respectively. Between 2012 and 2016, drug dogs — led by Interquest Detection Canines, which has been paid $13,500 annually by the district — made 163 visits, scouring approximately 1,300 classrooms and parking lots, logging 37 “hits,” as it’s called when a dog identifies drugs or gunpowder.
Since its inception, the program has been one of the few issues that has split the vote as boardmembers reauthorized it each year. On one hand, school principals explained, it has helped pinpoint secretive spots where students stash drugs. On the other, it interrupts classes and — especially since President Donald Trump took office — “adds to the climate of fear on campuses,” according to boardmember Laura Capps. Boardmember Ismael Ulloa pointed out that “taking a [bag] of pot from somebody doesn’t treat the problem,” a sentiment shared by administrators who’d like to replace drug dogs with effective front-end measures to connect with kids who may be having problems with alcohol and substance abuse. “I would rather we focus our efforts on treating the real problem,” Wageneck said.