Drugs versus human rights at PCSS

Despite efforts to halt the process, Porter Creek Secondary is one step closer to having a drug-detecting dog walking the halls of the school.

Despite efforts to halt the process, Porter Creek Secondary is one step closer to having a drug-detecting dog walking the halls of the school.

The school’s advisory committee has hired a dog handler for the program, Canines for Safer Schools, despite a human rights complaint lodged by the family of a student attending the school.

The student has an allergy to dogs. The family, which asked for anonymity, said the initiative violates the student’s right to attend a dog-free school.

The complaint was taken to the Yukon Human Rights Commission in August of 2006.

Since then, Kerry Huff, principal of Porter Creek Secondary School, has been trying to come up with ways to enable the school have a drug-dog while accommodating the student with the allergy.

“The Human Rights Commission hasn’t told us we can’t yet,” said Huff.

“Our position is that we can accommodate the student.

 “We believe we can have a dog that is hypoallergenic, that it doesn’t shed and the amount of dander coming from the dog would be no more than people coming into the building with dog hair on themselves.

“We can certainly assure the student that there would be no direct contact with the dog; we could even minimize the dog being in the vicinity of the student.”

The Human Rights Commission will be given two weeks notice of the dog’s appearance in the school, said Rosemary Burns of the department of Education.

The department wants the drug-sniffing dog, and that’s the best it can do, she said.

There is a drug problem at the school, and it’s frustrating one family can stall a process the whole community supports, said Mike Gladish, who sits on the school’s advisory committee.

“As far as the school council and the committee is aware, as soon as that dog comes in the school they’re going to be slapped with a human rights violation — that’s the threat that they’re facing,” said Gladish.

“So they’re trying to work around it by hiring the person who will work with the dog and if it’s an issue the dog won’t go in the school at that point, but at least they’ll have the program underway.

“If there is a perceived problem that the dog is going in the school, then the committee is prepared to not have the dog in the school in the immediate future with the idea that eventually this will be settled.

“So they’re not letting it stop them, but it has created delays and frustration.

“A group that thought this was going to be started last September is still spinning their wheels trying to get things going.”

The idea of having a drug dog in the school came from a group of concerned parents.

They approached Huff and the school council with information about the Canines for Safer Schools program.

To help explain the program, they brought a speaker up from Medicine Hat, Alberta, where the program has been dubbed a success.

The pitch convinced Huff and the school council, and they started planning to get a dog at Porter Creek Secondary.

The Education department supported the idea, agreeing to fund a three-year pilot study at the school for $275,000.

Porter Creek Secondary isn’t about to become a policed school guarded by a snarling German Shepard.

“They have a situation where they bring in a little wee puppy and they raise it as kind of a mascot within the school; it stays there for a year, goes out and gets training so it can then detect drugs and the theory is that the dog is not a great big German Shepard, it’s a very cute and cuddly little Lab or something,” said Huff.

“The kids kind of grow up with it and learn to like it, learn to communicate with it and it functions as something that is both a deterrent and something that, in fact, can detect drugs,” said Huff.

To avoid other human rights violations, the dog would never be used to conduct random locker searches.

It would also be trained to mingle among the students, only working to detect drugs some of the time.

If the dog detected drugs on a student, it would simply sit down.

This way, the student that has been flagged will not be singled out in front of his or her peers.

From that point, Huff would deal with the student, maybe asking the student to empty their pockets.

A body search would be out of the question, though a locker check might be conducted, said Huff.

Only the principal is allowed to conduct locker searches and even then he has to be pretty sure he will find contraband within the locker.

“It would not be our intent to take the dog in and out of classrooms and sniff people while they are trying to work,” said Huff.

“Our hope is that it will be enough of a deterrent that the drugs just won’t get here.”

If drugs are found on a student, or a student is found intoxicated, the police normally wouldn’t be called, said Huff.

“We generally inform the parents,” he said.

“We think that is another big part of this whole process.

“We’re not trying to throw a bunch of kids in jail; we’re trying to prevent them from bringing drugs to school or being exposed to others trying to sell drugs at school.

“So, if we’re talking about a student who might have gone out into the bush and smoked up at lunch we would probably go with a school suspension and inform the parents and if we can catch them early enough and soon enough, parents who might be not aware that their kid is involved in that hopefully would then intervene at home.”

This has very strong support from our students as well; in fact, they’ve been pushing us lately, wondering what the hold up is, said Huff.

 They’re eager to get the drugs out of their school, he added.

“Most kids don’t do drugs and they don’t want to be exposed to the peer pressure of having to,” he said.

“That’s a big part of it, it’s not just catching people, it’s trying to prevent some of our younger students, especially, from being exposed to that kind of pressure.”