A pair of drug-sniffing dogs from the Suffolk County Police Department’s K-9 Unit paid a surprise visit to East Hampton Middle School last Thursday. During the unexpected sweep, students remained in their classrooms as the dogs roamed the hallways and adjoining lockers, searching for illegal substances.
Ultimately, a small bag of marijuana was seized from a locker in the girls’ locker room and turned over to the East Hampton Village Police Department. According to Capt. Chris Anderson, the matter is now being handled internally by the school.
“Police confiscated the bag and the district conducted an internal investigation,” said Superintendent Richard Burns, in remarks disseminated by Syntax, a media relations firm that works with several Long Island school districts.
“The district maintains a zero-tolerance policy for students who choose to bring illegal drugs to school, and the responsible student will be disciplined appropriately,” said Mr. Burns in his statement. “The safety and security of our students is top priority and it’s why the district puts these proactive initiatives into place.”
Shortly after the sweep started, Charles R. Soriano, the principal, sent an email to parents advising them that a lock-down had begun and that they could not enter the school until the search had ended. He added that similar searches were likely to occur in the future, at random intervals. “While the search is a surprise, searching school property is not meant to be a secret,” he concluded.
In a follow-up email to parents and staff later that day, Dr. Soriano said the district “will fully cooperate with law enforcement officials and continue to investigate and monitor this matter internally. The safety and security of our students is a top priority and it’s precisely why we put these proactive initiatives into place.”
“Illegal drugs are a reality in the larger community, and the school is a reflection of that world — even among middle schoolers,” he continued, asking that parents use the sweep as an opportunity for a frank discussion about drug and alcohol use, including the consequences of poor decision-making.
Dr. Soriano had sent letters home last month telling parents that searches were likely to occur and that the school hoped the prospect would be seen as a deterrence. He explained that students would not come into direct contact with the dogs. He also said that the school owns all lockers, locks, and combinations, and that students should not have “any right or expectation of privacy for anything stored within school lockers.”
Last November the East Hampton School Board unanimously voted to allow drug-sniffing dogs on its campuses. At the time, a group of vocal parents urged that individual students — not just hallways and lockers — be searched as well. They were unsuccessful in their pleas,
Two months later, in early January, two dogs from the county unit scoured East Hampton High School. The dogs scratched and sniffed at several lockers, which were subsequently searched, but no illegal drugs were found. A second search occurred in March. Again, no drugs were found. Adam Fine, the principal, has promised that the dogs will return at regular intervals.
At the November meeting, Mr. Fine warned that in the event of illegal drugs being found, a student would face an automatic five-day suspension and a superintendent’s hearing, as well as possible arrest.