WATSONVILLE — After a trial run at three Pajaro Valley Unified School District schools that was deemed successful after one student was found with marijuana, drug-sniffing dogs will be used at all the district’s middle schools after the Board of Trustees Wednesday approved an expansion of the program.
The trustees approved the plan with a 6-0 vote with Trustee Jeff Ursino absent.
They approved a plan in March to use a trained canine to conduct random checks for drugs and weapons at Aptos High School, New School and Academic Vocational Charter Institute. According to the district, Hilmar-based Proactive K-9’s performed 14 checks in spring 2013.
Although only one student was caught, the program was still a worthwhile one, said PVUSD Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Instruction Murry Schekman.
“Even if it’s one kid it’s a problem,” he said.
The trustees also approved hiring a half-time counselor who will help implement anti-drug programs at Watsonville and Pajaro Valley high schools, and one to coordinate counseling services for 35 “at-risk” fifth- through eighth-graders throughout the district — the so-called Valor program.
The program, which would cost $85,000 per school year, includes working with parents, counseling, encouraging “pro-social” activities such as after-school programs and college tours.
A cost for the additional staff was not immediately available.
AHS Principal Casey O’Brien called the program “an excellent deterrent.”
Under the program, Jessie the dog will perform random searches at Aptos Junior High, and E.A. Hall, Cesar Chavez, Lakeview, Pajaro and Rolling Hills middle schools.
“I think it’s a great idea,” said E.A. Hall Middle School principal Olga de Santa Anna. “It gives the kids the message that we’re here to help them, and we’re not going to tolerate any controlled substances on campus.”
Santa Anna stressed that the searches are not intended to be punitive or threatening.
“It’s more of a heads-up,” she said.
District officials say the searches are meant to be part of a multi-phase program for students caught with drugs or being under the influence that includes socio-emotional and academic counseling, parent meetings and follow-up visits.
De Santa Anna said her students are excited about the visits.
“They said, ‘oh, cool,’” she said.
De Santa Anna said the intention of the program is not to embarrass students who are caught, or to punish them. Rather, it is a way to better understand the problems facing them and to act as a deterrent.
“It’s part of our safety net,” she said. “We’re helping the kids.”
Aptos Junior High School principal Brian Saxton called the program “a good idea.”
“Students need to know that we care about them and their safety, and this is a way to show that,” he said.
The expanded program is expected to cost approximately $20,000.
The anti-drug programs are also intended to help the financially struggling district by keeping kids in school and thereby their per-student daily funding. During the 2011-12 school, PVUSD year lost more than $471,000 when students were suspended or expelled.
In the past, the district was more punitive when dealing with drug issues, punishing them with suspensions of up to five days.
Agreeing that keeping them in school is a better way to keep them out of trouble, however, district officials last year piloted the Suspension Diversion program at Aptos High School. Instead of kicking kids out, students are sent home the day they’re caught, given a three-day in-school suspension in which the students are given support services such as counseling and monthly follow-up meetings.
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