PV trustees end drug-sniffing dog program


School supply stipend approved

WATSONVILLE — The Pajaro Valley Unified School District Board of Trustees on Wednesday ended its policy of bringing drug-sniffing dogs into classrooms, a decision sparked when several people spoke against the practice during the twice-monthly meeting.

The district will restrict the use of the dogs at certain events such as graduation trips, where drug use could cause a danger to students.

The decision came as part of a broader discussion on disciplinary measures used in schools, and how the district can create uniform policies throughout all its schools.

Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Education Kristen Shouse told the trustees that the drug-sniffing dog program is highly inaccurate, and has numerous negative impacts upon the students.

The board of trustees approved the practice in March 2013 by a 5-2 vote, with Trustee Karen Osmundson voting no, and Maria Orozco abstaining.

According to Shouse, drug dogs were brought into 82 classrooms during 21 occasions at Watsonville and Pajaro Valley High schools, at E.A. Hall and Pajaro Middle schools and at Aptos Junior High School from Aug. 30, 2018 through March 18.

On these visits, dogs were alerted to possible contraband a total of 70 times. But only 20 of those alerts were confirmed, giving the program less than 29 percent accuracy, Shouse said.

The trouble, Shouse said, is the students in question suffered embarrassment and trauma at being identified by a drug-sniffing dog, while roughly 2,800 students also in the classrooms were negatively impacted.

The constitutionality of the practice has been recently called into question, Shouse said.

The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled last year that using a drug-sniffing dog outside a residence without a warrant is a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Pajaro Valley High School counselor Ramiro Medrano said that many students suffer embarrassment when they are pulled out of class, along with a loss of privacy during the subsequent search. Medrano pointed out that, with marijuana legal in California, some students might retain an odor from the substance kept in their homes by their parents, causing a false positive by the dogs.

In addition, being singled out can have unintended consequences, Medrano said.

“For some students, perhaps, that’s a badge of honor for them, and then there is an image they have to uphold,” he said. “And they feel that, moving forward, that’s part of their image.”

Instead, the district should adopt preventative programs that are going to work, Medrano said.

Eliana Gonzalez said she was an honor-roll student until she got to high school. There, she began getting in trouble, and, unable to get appointments with overworked counselors, she was eventually kicked out and transferred to an alternative school.

She is now taking classes at Cabrillo College and plans on entering a four-year university. She asked the trustees to end the drug dog program and instead focus on giving students resources they need.

“We don’t need any more equipment to discipline our students,” she said. “What happens now is going to happen regardless if we put a cop or a dog on campus. I think we should get more resources on campus to help us before we get to that point.”

The move is in line with a district-wide drive to reduce expulsions and find alternative “restorative” methods of discipline such as in-school suspensions.

PVUSD Superintendent Michelle Rodriguez said the district recently refused a request to use drug-sniffing dogs at Renaissance High School.

“We felt it was contradictive of the restorative practices we are trying to do at Renaissance,” she said. 

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The trustees also approved a proposal to give all PVUSD teachers stipends to help them pay for school supplies.

Under the plan teachers will receive $125, with which they can purchase items through Palace Business Solutions, either online or in the stores.

Each site will be allocated funds to match their number of certificated staff, including part-time teachers. Teachers will have the option to spend individually or to pool their stipends to purchase supplies with other teachers.  

They can begin ordering on Aug. 1.

The district will pay $137,500 for the plan.

Orozco, who spearheaded the plan, said that she wanted to help teachers, most of whom pay for classroom supplies out of their own pockets.

“I recognize that this stipend will not cover all expenditures,” she said. “It will provide some help and serve as a token of our appreciation for all they do for our students. Hopefully this is something that will be done on an annual basis.”

In other action, the trustees approved a final offer of facilities for Watsonville Prep, a charter school approved early this year by the California Department of Education.

The district has offered seven portable units at E.A. Hall Middle School to the charter, along with a mobile restroom. The charter can use the school’s kitchen, but the district will not provide food.

The charter organization will pay for the restroom unit to be moved, said PVUSD Chief Business Officer Joe Dominguez.

The units, which were previously slated for demolition, must now be furnished and equipped for the first day of school on Aug. 13.

Navigator Schools CEO Kevin Sved, which will run the school, said that the organization has not yet officially received the offer, and will consider it once it arrives. Navigator is also in talks with the City of Watsonville to use the Porter Building, which was previously occupied by Ceiba College Preparatory Academy.

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