Nearly eight months after Trustee Joe Sabia raised the idea of using Suffolk County Police Department narcotics detection dogs in at Northport High School, the district is still seeking to qualify for the program.
Before sweeps can begin, the police department requires that schools notify all parents and legal guardians in writing of the following policy: that the school owns all lockers and locks on school property; students do not have any right or expectation of privacy for items stored within those lockers; and the school has the right to access the lockers at any time with or without advanced notice.
Lawyers are currently reviewing district policy as well as the Code of Conduct, which now must also comply with New York State’s Dignity for All Students Act (The Dignity Act) which seeks to provide students with an environment free from discrimination, intimidation, taunting, harassment and bullying on school property. The Dignity Act was signed into law on Sept. 13 and 2010 and takes effect on July 1, 2012.
Boards of Education are required to include language addressing the Dignity Act in their codes of conduct. Schools will also be responsible for collecting and reporting data annually on incidents of discrimination and harassment.
Once the legal review is over, the Board of Ed will have two readings of the policy and Code before adoption.
Anthony Ferrandino, Drug and Alcohol Student Assistance Advisor, sees the sweep program as enforcing the existing efforts the district is already undertaking, including the work of the Drug & Alcohol Task Force and early intervention programs. He sees communication as key. “Once you send that letter out, it’s going to start a dialogue between kids and parents.”
Ferrandino works in conjunction with Sean Boylan, who runs the Alternative School at the William Brosnan building for students who have been suspended. Typically a student who is under the influence at school but who isn’t found with any drugs and has no previous record, will be suspended from school for five days.
Greater infractions such as possession carry a longer suspension, but Ferrandino says students who choose to participate in the alternative program can receive a shorter suspension from the Superintendent. “We can’t force them.”
Students in the program are tutored from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. each day, along with counseling from Ferrandino twice a week. Once they return to school, he’s available three days a week for additional counseling.
“We’ve been very successful,” Ferrandino said. “When students come in, their GPAs typically go up.” Students with other issues not related to drugs, such as anger management, can also participate in the program.
If sweeps do occur, they would take place in an area determined by school officials. Students in that area would be kept in their classrooms for the duration of the sweep, which would be completed within a single period. Targeted sweeps of individual lockers would not occur. If the dog “indicates” to a locker, the locker would be searched, and a uniformed Second Precinct police officer would be responsible for any contraband seized. School officials would be required to provide the police with the name, date of birth, and address of the student, and the police could effect a summary arrest.
Given the late date in the school year, September seems more likely for the the district to move forward with the drug sweeps. Although the process is a lengthy one, Sabia is hopeful. “I think it will get done.”