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Villagers speak on drug dogs

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About 50 parents, high school students and community members came out into the cold on Thursday, Jan. 29, to attend a Yellow Springs Board of Education public meeting on the proposed use of drug-sniffing dogs at Yellow Springs High School. Of the 11 adults who spoke, about half favored the use of drug dogs and half opposed the proposal. All of the 12 young people who spoke opposed the use of dogs, and asked that school administrators reconsider their position.

“This is an extreme step to end a problem that has been improving,” said YSHS senior Erik Bean. “The searches will create more separation between youth and adults in Yellow Springs, and more a culture of fear.”

In an introduction, board Vice President Anne Erickson stated that board members receive input from community members in a variety of ways, and that the opinions expressed at the meeeting may not be representative. The meeting was the third public forum on drug dogs, with the first sponsored by the Yellow Springs Human Relations Commission and the second by the YSHS Parent-Teacher Organization.

In November, Yellow Springs High School Principal John Gudgel sent letters to parents, stating that trained dogs would be brought into the school at some undisclosed time. The search by dogs has not yet taken place.

In her introduction, Erickson clarified that the board would not be voting on the issue. The board has set the broad policy of having drug-free schools, school board members have stated, and Gudgel has chosen the use of drug dogs as a specific means of reaching that goal.

“This decision is within the jurisdiction of Mr. Gudgel, and the board fully trusts and supports him,” Erickson said. The Thursday event was an opportunity for the board and school administrators to listen to public concerns, and board members made no comments. The board has not had a public dialogue on the issue of drug dogs.

But the board should be voting on the issue, according to Dayton attorney and local resident Jon Paul Rion, who advises the YSHS Mock Trial team. Rion told the board members that they “should not abdicate the responsibility” to take a stand on the issue. The dog search involves the Fourth Amendment rights of high school students, who would be locked in classrooms during a drug-dog search, Rion said, adding that if the search takes place, “you’re giving up more than the Fourth Amendment, you’re giving up the trust of the kids.”

Yellow Springs Village Council President Judith Hempfling also encouraged board members to vote on whether or not to use drug dogs.

“When an issue causes a lot of debate, the policy makers need to step in,” Hempfling said.

But several other parents said they supported the use of drug dogs because they trust Gudgel to make the right decision.

“I’m comfortable with the leadership making these hard decisions,” said Gary Zaremsky.

Trusting students not to bring drugs to school hasn’t worked, said Jennifer Sherwood, who stated that parents should “Wake up and smell the cannibis that has been in town for years and get rid of it.”Parent Brad Myers said that he strongly supports the use of the dogs because, referring to the 2002 death of YSHS senior Tim Lopez, “we have already had drug-related deaths in Yellow Springs and one is too many.”

But drug dogs are not needed, according to parent Cindy Greene, who said that it’s the responsibility of parents to search their children’s possessions at home, and that at schools, teachers and administrators should be trusted to identify youth with drug problems.

“You’re substituting dogs for your learned experience,” she said.

Parent Dave Turner said he opposes the use of dogs because “there is too much fear, anger and resentment on all sides,” and that the use of dogs will intensify those feelings. “If you bring the dogs in, in the long run it will be counterproductive,” he said.

Several of the young people who spoke expressed respect and affection for Principal Gudgel, but said the high school climate has improved since the death of Lopez, who was killed in 2002 in an alleged drug-related murder by fellow student Michael Rittenhouse.

“The town is still aching from that tragedy,” said recent YSHS graduate Anna Forster. “But we’re different now. We need to turn that bitterness into productivity.”

In a prepared statement by the recently formed YS Youth Council read by Amelia Tarpey, the group stated its belief that the searches would not help youth with serious drug problems because it targets all students, and would only keep troubled students from bringing drugs to schools. Also, they stated that the searches would heighten distrust between young people and adults, which they said has increased in recent months due to what young people perceive as harassment by some local police.

“If these searches take place they will increase tensions between youth and the police to the detriment of the entire community,” the statement said.

High school students also don’t want drugs in the school, the student speakers said, but they believe there are more effective ways of addressing the problem. Members of the YS Youth Council want to work with school administrators to help, Forster said.

“We have the time, we have the energy,” she said. “We just need you to ask us for what you want and we’ll give it to you.”

But students should see the drug dog searches as a preventative measure “like a vaccine that you put up with,” according to 2001 YSHS graduate Jessica Zagory, who stated she was in the same high school class as Rittenhouse and Lopez.

“It’s about time we do something that says we don’t put up with drugs,” she said. “The greater good of a drug-free school outweighs my rights.”

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