Principals oppose moves to restrict sniffer dogs

Palmerston North high school principals are defending the use of sniffer dogs to perform random drug searches in schools, as a law change set to bar the practice looms.

The Education Amendment Bill introduced by Education Minister Hekia Parata last month could limit schools' search and seizure powers, removing their ability to contract drug sniffer dog handlers to hunt drugs brought on to school grounds or to randomly test students for drug use.

Instead searches would be performed by police sniffer dogs only when students were off the premises, and teachers would be able to hunt for drugs only where there was cause for suspicion.

Palmerston North Boys' High rector David Bovey said schools would struggle to shut their gates against drugs if the bill passed into law.

"I dare say there would be an increase," he said. "I just think this is the largest pile of politically correct nonsense I have ever heard."

Mr Bovey had discussed attitudes to drug searches with senior students and received support.

"The only complaint we had was a boy who said the dog licked his sandwiches."

A spokeswoman for the Education Minister said the bill aimed to strike a balance between drugs detection and avoiding interference with schools' roles.

"The bill specifies the powers that can be exercised by teachers, while restricting some more intrusive methods of search and seizure.

"For most schools this won't mean any change at all to how they manage behaviour and disciplinary processes, nor will it compromise their ability to tackle drug issues."

Mr Bovey rejected ministry claims schools' search and seizure measures were an invasion of privacy. "For us the safety of the students is making sure they are learning in a drug-free environment."

Freyberg High School principal Peter Brooks agreed the Government's move would not help.

"It is just another tool we haven't got in our arsenal for keeping our school drug-free," he said.

Schools were responsible for taking measures to protect students from drugs.

"To try and separate out pastoral care and education is naive in the extreme," Mr Brooks said.

"They [pupils] come from a wide range of backgrounds and parents look to us to have a set of values for our school."

Palmerston North Girls' High had never used sniffer dogs, principal Melba Scott said.

But she believed schools should have options to prevent drugs entering their grounds.

"For all of the years I have been [in education] my major roles in school have been helping students grow and develop appropriate behaviour and that includes around alcohol, drugs, threats and anger management.

"We get the full range and every one of those behaviours we are addressing as part of education," she said.

Last year Palmerston North secondary schools' anti-drugs enforcement techniques caught students.

Three boys caught with drugs were kicked out of Boys' High's boarding house last July.

Feilding High dispatched four students from its boarding house for drug use in June, and Awatapu College testers found four students on drugs at school.

The Education Amendment Bill is now before a select committee and submissions close in January.

Manawatu Standard