We are not naive when it comes to the safety and security concerns that impact the modern school. Many of us grew up learning to “duck and cover” in the event of a nuclear attack. We practiced tornado warnings and fire drills with regularity.
Today, our kids still do safety drills, but now there’s so much more. All our schools learn how to respond to active shooter situations and what to do if they see a fellow student with a weapon or drugs at school.
Moore County is not an urban system with large numbers of these problems, but we have our share. And we have always been a proactive school district on safety and security. We’ve long had our own police force for the school system, one of just two in the state.
When Schools Superintendent Bob Grimesey started five years ago, one of his first acts was to survey all the schools’ security. Significant improvements have been made, but more is on the list. In January, the schools presented to county officials a $1.5 million list of needs primarily involving more surveillance cameras and upgrading communication systems.
On the Scent
Unlike all those changes, though, the latest security measure is not getting the same sort of attention called to it. In an evening phone call a week ago, parents learned that, starting in the coming weeks, dogs trained by Southern Pines-based K2 Solutions will make random appearances at the middle and high schools. We’re told the dogs, in training primarily to detect weapons and drugs, will be kept to common areas like courtyards, parking lots and cafeterias.
“It’s just a matter of the dog kind of milling around in large groups of people,” says Seth Powers, the school district’s director of student support services. “They’re trained well enough that if they scent something they’ll move to that person and alert.
“It’s not going to be a situation where each student has to line up and walk by the dog, or where we’re going to line students up and have the dogs walk by them.”
The dog and its handler will be escorted by a school administrator or Moore County Schools police officer. If the dog detects something, at least two school staffers would pull the student aside for a private search.
Sending the Wrong Message
The legalities and logistics of this endeavor are not at issue. The courts long ago blessed this, but with careful wording regarding unconstitutional searches. But the optics of this? Well, that’s another story.
Does our level of drugs- and weapons-in-school activity warrant random detection-dog visits? Since administrators clearly think it does, shouldn’t we have talked about this as a community first?
This school district goes to great pains to open itself to public feedback on everything from redistricting to school names. No parental input on this? No letters home? No notice on the school system’s website or survey on social media?
Look, we all know the situation today with school violence. But there are right ways and wrong ways to respond to it. The knuckleheaded notion of some state lawmakers wanting to arm teachers — and tie pay increases to it — is a wrong way. But spending more money to improve youth mental health awareness and education? More funds for officers in schools who can work in positive, role-model ways to build relationships with students? Those are the right ways.
What are we telling our children when they see or know their schools are being subject to random dog searches? “We don’t trust you?” “You’re not safe enough?”
Moore County Schools Police, acting with school administrators, has historically performed professionally and rationally to ensure safety in our classrooms. That’s because we’ve always asked ourselves: What’s rational? What’s proportional? What’s going to be a positive message?
Random dog searches don’t seem to meet any of those questions.