Merrimack School Board approves use of drug dogs

MERRIMACK – The School Board approved an agreement between Merrimack High School and the Merrimack Police Department to allow drug-sniffing dogs in the facility.

The agreement had been in the works since 2015 after a youth risk behavior survey suggested a troubling level of prescription drug abuse among high school students, as well as the perception that marijuana is a low-risk drug.

All members of the board approved the motion during a Monday meeting.

Merrimack resident Jennifer DeFelice used the public comment period of the meeting to express support for the drug-sniffing dog. DeFelice said she has two nieces who graduated from a high school in Jacksonville, Fla., which had a drug-sniffing dog named Liberty who stayed with the resource officer throughout the day.

Her nieces, she said, told her that students didn’t bring drugs to the schools because if Liberty found drugs on students, they were "done."

"It’s a problem," DeFelice said. "We need to do something. Please, let the dog in the school."

Resident Kristin Carillo, who said she is a nurse, expressed uncertainty about the policy.

"I take care of young kids who before age of 20 are now needing heart valves," Carillo said. "I don’t think a dog would have saved them, I think that ‘in your face’ real education would have."

Carillo also expressed concern about the possibility of a dog finding drugs that a student hid in another’s unlocked locker.

"I’m not necessarily against the dog, but I feel like we could be doing more as a community to be helping these kids," she said. "Is our point to get drugs out of school, or protect kids from drug addiction?"

Members of the board addressed Carillo’s concerns before finalizing the policy.

"I personally feel the need to get the drugs out of the schools outweighs the possibility of being set up," board member Michael Thompson said.

Vice Chairman Andy Schneider emphasized that the introduction of drug dogs into the schools is only one part of the picture, and that education is also important.

Schneider expressed approval of a stipulation in the policy that says it is subject to review annually. He requested adding such language into the policy at the previous meeting so that the board could review its effectiveness.

Thompson said he didn’t think the language in the policy is clear enough, and argued it should say that the board "will review it annually," not that it’s "subject to review annually."

Superintendent Marge Chiafery disagreed with Thompson, and said she thought the language was clear.

Thompson also recommended that a message be sent to those in the district and to parents the day the dogs enter the schools so they are notified.

School Board student representative Zev Sernik said he had talked to several students in the past weeks who support the policy.

"Almost every student I’ve talked to about this or who came up to me personally about it said they support this and said they think it is a step in the right direction in terms of making our school a better environment for all of us," Sernik said.

The policy has been made available to view on the Merrimack School District website.

Derek Edry can be reached at 594-1243, or @Telegraph_Derek.