Weighing Student Privacy Against School Safety

If you were to draw up a list of the most worrisome safety issues facing public schools in Hawai‘i, trying to tackle the long-standing problem of illegal drugs and alcohol would rank right near the top.

Illegal drugs have no rightful place anywhere in our state.

They have even less of a place in our schools, where drugs and alcohol can severely impair academic performance while leading to class disruption, violence and other such irresponsible behaviors as skipping classes or failing to complete assignments.

I applaud the Board of Education’s recent vote to allow drug-sniffing dogs and random locker searches at public schools.

The wisdom of this policy is that it gives administrators the tools they need to ensure students will be safe and that illegal drugs are not used or sold on campuses. 

When it comes to making sure that illegal drugs and alcohol are not as much a part of the educational experience as reading, school administrators need a wide range of tools to protect the students in their care. The safety and security of all students must be a priority.

We should not underestimate how vigilant school administrators have to be to stem the distribution of potentially harmful substances.

Random locker searches and drug-sniffing dogs not only help them discourage illegal substances from being brought into school, but also show unequivocal support for their efforts to make these campuses nurturing environments that are supposed to be conducive to adolescent education.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 36 percent of Hawai‘i students who self-reported their behavior in 2007 said they had been offered, sold or given an illegal drug by someone on school property within the past year.

When three Maui schools experimented in 2007 with using dogs to search for drugs on campus, the number of incidents involving contraband decreased by about 90 percent during the period of the pilot program. Five months after the experiment with drug-sniffing dogs in hallways ended, the schools saw a dramatic resurgence in incidents.

In other words, the atmosphere created by bringing dogs into schools helped to keep drugs away. The point is not to intimidate students. Rather, the goal is to make it as hard as possible for anyone to bring drugs into schools where they can have harmful, unintended consequences for impressionable teens and adolescents.