Canine search policies emerging across the county
NEW CANAAN — The need to have police dogs conduct searches of Fairfield County schools is something many districts have embraced. Not so in New Canaan.
Monroe Public Schools approved its dog search policy in April 2015 but limited in its scope to Masuk High School, which has 1,020 students this year compared to 1,294 in New Canaan High School.
Since the policy’s implementation, there has been only one canine search conducted at Masuk in late 2017, according to Assistant Superintendent Joe Kobza.
“There were four dogs in the school and two dogs outside in the parking lot,” said Kobza, who was principal of Masuk High School at the time of the search. “If there was a hit (if a dog found something), the location would be cross-referenced with another dog to make sure it wasn’t a false positive.”
Monroe Superintendent of Schools Jack Zamary confirmed at least one student had been caught with illicit substances sniffed by the canines during that search.
Zamary, who is in his first year as superintendent, affirmed searches are worthwhile and could be conducted again in the future.
“It’s not a tool we want to use by itself. We use it to support our students. We have educational and proactive components that begin in the earliest years in the district,” Zamary said. “A search is really a reactive tool, not the most desirable, but if there’s a way of finding substances, it’s one that we need to use.”
New Canaan schools have floated the idea of having canine units in town, but a formal process towards approving said policy only began this summer.
The New Canaan Board of Education reviewed a draft policy in mid-July, but a month later board members argued they needed more time to consider its impact.
In an update Tuesday, Superintendent of School Bryan Luizzi said the item would not be in the agenda for upcoming school board meetings in the near future as the Governance Committee is reviewing the policy, a process that would “take some time.”
Other Fairfield County districts with active policies
West of New Canaan, Greenwich public schools have had a canine search policy for the past nine years in the high school only, but a June 14 revision this year made it applicable to all schools in the district.
“We are currently in the process of converting our Greenwich Public Schools policies to the CABE (Connecticut Association of Boards of Education) model,” Linda Valentine, assistant to the interim superintendent, wrote in an email.
The CABE template provides a sample that is “available to school districts who want to consider developing and adopting a policy pertaining to the use of drug-sniffing dogs,” Vincent Mustaro, a senior staff associate for policy services at CABE, said.
Just this year, Norwalk implemented their own drug-sniffing dog policies that apply to the public middle and high schools. According to Frank Constanzo, chief of school operations at Norwalk schools, searches would be random and unannounced.
The three school districts give different members the authority to call for a search. In Monroe, that falls to the superintendent; in Greenwich, the board must permit the administration; and in Norwalk, the chief of school operations and the Norwalk Police Department have that authority.
In Stamford, the third-largest city in the state, public schools don’t have a policy that addresses canine searches.
“At this point we do not feel circumstances warrant similar protocol,” said Sharon Beadle, the Stamford schools director of communication.
Community outreach in town
This initiative in New Canaan comes in the wake of other efforts to address the use of illegal substances in town.
Earlier this summer, Chief of Police Leon Krolikowski and First Selectman Kevin Moynihan announced the website, DrugFreeNC, as a tool to help inform residents in the community about drug recovery and support.
When asked about how the police would cooperate with schools if a canine search policy were passed, Krolikowski said the department would use their dog, a German shepherd named Apollo, or additional dogs from other towns.
“If drugs are found, we would open an investigation to determine the best course of action, which might involve some combination of treatment, referral or criminal prosecution,” Krolikowski said.
Krolikowski noted if the policy does not garner board of education approval, he would remain invested to see how they could address the issue of illicit substance use.
“These cycles of addiction that, at times, lead to death start in our schools,” Krolikowski said. “Given the local and nationwide opioid epidemic, our community needs to use every tool available.”