It was one of Stephen Schuler’s first initiatives after being appointed to the Manteca Unified School District board — pushing to get additional funding for random campus visits of drug sniffing dogs.
The board backed Schuler’s proposal in 2015. The stepped up sweeps dropped drug and alcohol suspensions and expulsions by almost 20 percent accelerating annual declines the district had been enjoying for years thanks to a zero tolerance policy and stepped up education efforts.
Currently each of the district’s 30 campuses get at least two annual unannounced searches by the highly trained dogs. The contract also calls for demonstrations at school assemblies to allow students to see firsthand how thorough the dogs are and how they can find drugs hidden in improbable places that are not visible.
“It (the random searches) are working as a deterrent,” noted Rupe Bhatti, the Manteca Unified Director of Child Welfare & Attendance.
Bhatti noted there were 138 student suspensions and expulsions for drugs and alcohol offenses for the 2014-2015 school year. It dropped to 114 for the 2015-2016 school year. With two months to go in the current school year, Bhatti said the numbers are dropping further.
It should be noted that even before random sweeps of campuses with drug dogs, Manteca Unified ranked in the lower end of the spectrum for districts of similar size in California for substance abuse problems. But that wasn’t good enough for the school board nor was the steady downward trend in problems. They were determined to make schools even safer.
Schuler — a sergeant with the Manteca Police Department and former school resource officer — was sold on the effectiveness of the highly trained dogs. One example of that involves Xanax, a prescription drug that is often abused. Some abusers try to mask Xanax in water to avoid detection. That may fool people but not highly-trained drug-sniffing dogs.
Clara Schmiedt, Manteca Unified Director of Secondary Education, pointed out once students see how effective the dogs are as well as not knowing when they will appear on campus is helping to serve as an effective determent.
The cost of the additional random visits by the drug sniffing dogs was $12,000 for the first year. Prior to tbe board increasing the funding for random campus visits the service was used only on an individual case basis whenever school administrators become aware of an increase of drugs on campuses.
Bhatti said how the students are dealt with — suspension, counseling or expulsion — depends upon the severity of the offense. Someone that brings substances onto campus to sell or share is expelled.
Those that dogs detect marijuana residue in the bottom of their backpack are dealt with less severely.
The bottom line, though, of zero tolerance toward drugs — illegal or prescription as well as alcohol and tobacco — never changes.
The dogs are used to sniff lockers, classrooms and even around vehicles as they are able to detect the various substances they are trained to find even if it is behind metal.
Due to the extensive policies and procedures in place to deal with drug-related issued rarely do suspensions and expulsions reach the hearing level as they do in a number of districts as issues and consequences are extensively vetted with parents and guardians. Students who come to school under the influence are referred to counseling as an intervention in addition to being disciplined.
District officials believe efforts such as the Q-15 regarding driving and drinking programs staged at the high school level, school resource officers, Red Ribbon Week, and other such endeavors have helped reduce drug issues over the years on Manteca Unified campuses.
At the same time society’s changing attitudes toward some illegal substances hasn’t eased the zero tolerance policy.
In many cases the consequences are now much more severe for a student to have drugs on a school campus than elsewhere due to relaxed criminal penalties.
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