District lets the dogs in

While contraband sniffing dogs found one Newport-Mesa Unified School District student in possession of marijuana in October, a district report shows that most students are probably not bringing drugs and alcohol to school.

However, students still could be using drugs and alcohol off campus, the report shows.

Interquest Detection Canines, a K9 drug detection company hired by the district in September, took golden retrievers or Labradors to eight Newport-Mesa campuses in October in search of illegal items like drugs, alcohol and gunpowder.

The canines are trained to smell the items and alert their handler by sitting down or pawing the ground. This indicates the presence of drugs, alcohol or gunpowder — or their lingering smell — giving school administrators authority to search the student's belongings, said Interquest's San Diego president, Christine Schulz.

The dogs showed interest in the contents of 25 students' backpacks or purses, said Jane Garland, director of community services for the district.

Students were searched in classrooms at random at Estancia, Costa Mesa, Back Bay, Corona del Mar, Newport Harbor and Early College high schools, as well as Ensign Intermediate and TeWinkle Middle schools.

Marijuana was found on one student at Back Bay, Garland said.

She believes this was the student's first offense, meaning he or she is not likely to face suspension but will be forced to participate in "other means of correction." The consequences range from discussions with campus administrators to drug and alcohol classes.

Campus administrators didn't find drugs on the other 24 students during the searches, but after they were questioned, several admitted that drugs or alcohol had previously been in their backpacks or purses.

"It's interesting when you find the residue, because the students will tell you about it," Garland said. "At least you can kind of spot the ones that may have used, and you can have them in the tool kit of memory so you can watch them."

During a search at Harbor High, administrators found a pipe with residue of what was thought to be marijuana in an 11th-grade student's backpack. A senior at Back Bay was in possession of an e-cigarette during one of the searches, the report shows.

Two students at Back Bay and Estancia were found with Ibuprofen, which is not allowed on campus. District policy bans possession on school grounds of non-prescribed medications. The students discarded the medication after the searches.

"We want the dogs to be a deterrent," Garland said. "We tell students we don't want you to use drugs, but if you're going to use it, do not bring it to our campuses."

The district decided to utilize detection dogs in response to an increasing youth drug problem in Newport-Mesa and beyond, said Supt. Fred Navarro.

Costa Mesa police arrested a 12-year-old boy on suspicion of bringing a drug-laced brownie to TeWinkle after several students became sick in April. A similar situation occurred at Pomona Elementary School in March, when a student was arrested after bringing a pot brownie to school.

These instances of drugs on campus were among the factors that led to the discussion of bringing canines to schools, Navarro said.

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