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Dogging Drugs on Campus

July 21, 1998

Venice High School could soon be the site of a sadly necessary pilot program designed to reduce the presence of illegal drugs and weapons on campus. At its next meeting, the Board of Education should approve a proposal to periodically take drug-sniffing dogs onto campus over a one-year period.

Sniffer dogs already are a fact of life in a number of Los Angeles-area public and private schools, but Venice High would be the first campus of the L.A. Unified School District to have such a program. The school plans to contract with a private company that takes amiable Labradors and golden retrievers, rather than intimidating German shepherds, to campuses for unannounced sniff-searches of classrooms, student lockers and possibly cars in the school's parking lot.

Students themselves would not be searched by the dogs, which are trained to detect marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, alcohol, a few medications and gunpowder. If a dog signaled the presence of one of these substances in a locker or backpack or desk, the student would be questioned by school officials rather than police.

It is a hard reality that, as Venice principal Bud Jacobs notes, guns and other weapons are found at the school three or four times a year. Keeping them away could save a student's life. This year's gun violence on America's school grounds is evidence of the need.

According to some Venice parents, drugs are available on the West Los Angeles campus despite the district's zero tolerance policy. Jacobs hopes that the dogs will provide an effective deterrent.

Yes, along with the metal detectors in use on many campuses, dogs add to the gloomy feeling of many teenagers that they are prison inmates rather than high school students. But the experiment in Southern California schools should be seen in the light of growing concern.

The move in Venice for the one-year program demonstrates the commitment of parents and teachers to improving the school. The proposal to use the dogs originated with the Venice LEARN Council, a group of parents, teachers and staff that helps govern the school. This is an idea worthy of school board approval.

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