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East Lyme - New rules governing the use of drug-sniffing dogs on school property are now in effect, school officials announced as the new school year got under way this month.
The Board of Education had previously approved the use of dogs for searches but had not outlined a specific policy for their use.
Superintendent of Schools James Lombardo requested a policy last year defining new parameters for the use of narcotic-detecting dogs.
At televised meetings in April, the Board of Education adopted regulations allowing the superintendent of schools to authorize such searches.
Top administrators at the high school discussed the regulations at assemblies with each grade, according to Lombardo.
Lombardo said the policy is another step in "part of our effort to ensure that our campus is as free and safe from illegal drugs and alcohol," as well as other harmful substances. The school board will later review the district's drug and alcohol policy procedures.
The new policy states dogs are not allowed to search people. State-certified canines can sniff near lockers, desks or cars on district property or at district events but not within "close proximity of any student," states the policy, which can be found on the East Lyme Public Schools website. The school district has secured the service of two trained police dogs with trainers that could be called in for searches, Lombardo said.
Parents and students must receive notice of the policy in the student or parent handbook, or on the district or school website, the policy states. The specific search dates do not need to be advertised.
The policy outlines specific rules if a dog makes an "alert" about a student's property: "Before conducting a search based upon an alert, an effort shall be made to seek the student's consent and an effort shall be made to protect the student's privacy to the greatest degree possible," the policy states.
Parents will be notified if a student's property is searched after an alert. The policy outlines the next steps that would be taken if an outlawed item is found.
Law enforcement agencies are allowed to investigate and prosecute for illegal substances found on school property.
If school districts want to consider using drug-detecting dogs, they should have in place a policy spelling out the rules, said Vincent Mustaro, senior staff associate for policy at the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education.
CABE has taken the key position that dogs should not sniff people in schools because there is no "reasonable suspicion," Mustaro said. The Amity school district, he noted, held a vote to modify its policy to allow drugs to sniff people but was unsuccessful.
CABE's sample policy advises districts to conduct a public information session for students and parents on the new policy or at least an open Board of Education meeting, Mustaro said.
Some school districts in the region have also authorized drug-sniffing dogs. The Stonington Board of Education voted in 2011 to allow a police dog to search schools.