09/17/07 — Officials on lookout for drugs in schools

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Officials on lookout for drugs in schools

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on September 17, 2007 1:45 PM

Wayne County Public Schools is stepping up efforts to help create safe and drug-free schools, officials say.

In recent years, safety measures have been revamped and updated regularly -- expanding staff training and affiliation with such local agencies as the Sheriff's Office.

Over the summer, administrators and safety coordinators began providing the Board of Education with a school safety update to keep them apprised of existing safety programs and regular updates on measures being taken to ensure security.

With the start of a new school year, efforts have been increased, said Dr. Steven Taylor, superintendent of schools.

Last week, Wayne County Sheriff's Office conducted the first of many random searches that will be done in schools around the county this year. Deputies checked cars at Southern Wayne and Spring Creek high schools for drugs or weapons that were readily visible. Drug dogs were also used to sniff out possible drugs that could be hidden in vehicles or lockers.

The search netted one student, at Southern Wayne, charged with simple possession of marijuana found in a vehicle. The student will also face disciplinary action at the school.

"It is always disappointing when students bring items that are illegal or against school policy on to our campuses," Taylor said. "But the message is clear. If a student is caught in possession of any weapon or drugs on our campuses, they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, as well as face disciplinary actions in accordance to board policy."

Safety of students and staff is tantamount, he added. Working with law enforcement agencies, even if it means random searches at middle and high schools, has become an necessity, he said.

"We also plan to increase the use of metal detectors on our campuses, by having our high schools set (them) up periodically throughout the year," he added.

Chris Barnes, security coordinator for the district, said high school principals and the Sheriff's Office had worked jointly on a plan for running the drug dogs through the schools. There are also plans to meet with school resource officers to address their concerns at the individual schools.

"Students may not know when we are coming to their schools to set up metal detectors or to do random searches, but we are coming," said Allen Smith, safety coordinator. "We are also working with schools to build upon existing safety programs, to better promote student safety inside and outside the classroom."

Parent support for the efforts, as well as the community's, will be appreciated, Taylor said. He said the Parent Advisory Councils at individual schools are also an important piece of the puzzle in getting the word out.

An additional security measure implemented at six of the 33 schools this year is the "Higher Standard Dress Code." At a recent school board meeting, Chairwoman Shirley Sims said while it may seem like just a change in wearing apparel, safety prompted the effort.

School system employees already have photo ID badges, as do teachers and staff, making it easier to differentiate between visitors and employees. With the addition of the uniform policy for students, it becomes that much simpler to spot those who are not students, Ms. Sims said.

Being proactive with regards to safety is imperative, Barnes said.

"We must be ever vigilant in working to ensure students safely receive their education without fear or interruption," he said "We are grateful for the (school) board's support, as well as the Wayne County Sheriff's Department's assistance in our efforts.

"It is our hope that the increased presence of law enforcement and use of metal detectors on our campuses, will help create safe and drug-free learning environments for our students."