02/20/08 — Wayne boards discuss the problem of drugs in local schools

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Wayne boards discuss the problem of drugs in local schools

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on February 20, 2008 2:02 PM

Though most of Monday's meeting between the Wayne County Board of Commissioners and Board of Education was cordial, there was one point of almost heated contention -- the issue of drugs in schools.

More specifically, the debate was sparked by a question asked by Commissioner Jack Best about how much free rein the county Sheriff's Office and its drug dogs have in the county schools.

His concern, he explained, are the rumors that students know when the dogs are coming and that they can't come unannounced.

"I think the school board has not done enough to get the drugs off campus. I am very concerned about drugs on our campuses," he said. "People will respect what you inspect."

School officials emphatically told Best, though, that his information was wrong.

"The board takes it very seriously," county school Superintendent Dr. Steve Taylor said.

And while, Sprunt Hill, assistant superintendent of auxiliary services, acknowledged that there hadn't always been the best cooperation between all the parties involved in the past, he emphasized that was changing.

"The board directed us to let the sheriff's department go in and do what they had to do and then we'd do what we had to do," Hill said.

The only time recently, he added, that the sheriff's office has been deterred from going into the schools was during end-of-grade testing because it would have disrupted the entire process and there was no concrete reason given for the search.

Beyond that, he said, the district has not stood in law enforcement's way.

"We have never not allowed them to come," Hill said.

Nor, he continued, do officials give the principals any advance warning -- only a phone call about 10 minutes before sheriff's deputies arrive.

In fact, Hill said, only members of the school system's safety and security team know the night before, and he doesn't even know about searches until the mornings of the events.

"Nobody knows unless it's the sheriff's office and those dogs because we don't tell," he said.

Besides, he added, "the drug dogs have never found any drugs in any lockers."

The dogs are only allowed to search lockers and cars -- not people.

In fact, he said, every recent drug bust the school system has had has been made by teachers and other administrators, often based on student tips.

So, Hill noted, the district is not just relying on the sheriff's office to eradicate drugs in schools. Officials are also working themselves to implement drug awareness and other drug-free campus programs.

"We're doing a lot of things," he said.

The most important thing, though, Taylor added, is "(getting) parents involved -- checking those book bags, checking those pockets and seeing what (their children are) doing."

But the rest, school officials said in response to Best's question of what the commissioners can do to help, is up to the county -- to fund the school resource officers for the middle schools and to fund countywide efforts to fight drugs on the streets.

"If you can get drugs out of the county, we'll get them out of the schools," school board member John Grantham said.