The debate over whether to unleash drug-sniffing dogs at East Hampton High School cleared its last and final hurdle Tuesday night, with the school board unanimously voting to amend its policy.
A packed house of parents sat close together, speaking as one in favor of the proposal.
“I speak in support of this policy, as a taxpayer and parent of a young child in the district,” said Jeff Erickson. “I applaud the board. We all know that we have an epidemic on Long Island with oxycodone and prescription-drug use. It starts with alcohol and marijuana. If we have children using our facility to sell drugs or use drugs, let’s get rid of them. Let’s get them out, because they’re poisoning our children.”
Mr. Erickson continued: “I’m pretty conservative on this. I have no problem with them sniffing our children.”
Thunderous applause followed his remarks.
“We have not heard one word against — not one,” said Patricia Hope, the board president, yesterday morning.
The question of whether to use the dogs surfaced three weeks ago, when a Latino parent stood to address the board, saying that her child had recently been offered cocaine during lunchtime. A group of Latino parents interviewed later said that the high school bathrooms also posed a problem, and that some students hid drugs in the caps of highlighter pens.
In a marked shift from most meetings, which are generally sparsely attended, both white and Latino parents turned out in equal numbers Tuesday. About 30 sat in the audience.
“I’m so happy this program has come up. A lot of stuff has been going on at the school and it’s been worrying me,” said Ana Perez, a parent. “I think it’s a big problem.”
“I would love to have the dogs here,” said Walther Quiroz. “The same day they check, can they also do it in the cars parked in the lot?”
Ms. Hope promised to investigate.
During the meeting, Adam Fine, the high school principal, explained that the school would go on modified lockdown once the K-9 unit was brought in, with students kept inside classrooms. Neither parents nor students will be notified of a search beforehand. “Students cannot be in the hallways,” said Mr. Fine. “Dogs cannot go near kids, only in the hallways to search near lockers.”
Should illegal drugs be found, he said, the County Police Department’s K-9 Unit would defer to East Hampton Town police. Besides a possible arrest, the student would also face an automatic five-day suspension and a superintendent’s hearing, among other possible penalties.
“The district already has enormous power under existing policy to search students whenever there is cause. This is a fairly minor change in the context of the tools that the district already has,” said Jackie Lowey, a board member.
“It will provide a highly dramatic layer of deterrence,” countered Ms. Hope. “It’s a big deal to a little kid — even a medium-sized kid. And that’s one of its main values.”
In other news, high school students who built a school in Senegal over the summer as part of buildOn, an international nonprofit organization, made a presentation recapping the trip. A student from East Hampton Middle School also spoke about the recently approved Surfrider Club, which works on environmental causes. The club’s first project will work to bring about plastic-waste awareness.
The board voted to terminate Karin Gosman, a school bus driver, effective Oct. 18. Additionally, members voted to approve a shared sports agreement among the East Hampton, Bridgehampton, and Montauk schools. Board members also approved a new special education services contract between East Hampton and Wainscott, which will allow Wainscott students to participate in special education classes in East Hampton, rather than traveling UpIsland.
A contract for Michael Conte of Syntax Communication was approved from Oct. 17 to June 30, 2015, for the purpose of Web site design, hosting, and maintenance services. Richard Burns, district superintendent, said it is hoped that a new Web site will be unveiled by the spring, if not sooner. The board also approved the disposal of books from East Hampton Middle School, following an infestation of mold.
Finally, during the second airing of public comments, Arthur Goldman, a teacher at East Hampton High School, urged the board to reconsider its decision to hold graduation on the evening of Friday, June 27.
“The Friday date places an undue hardship on relatives traveling far distances,” said Mr. Goldman, explaining that the relatives would be forced to take the day off from work in order to attend. The change from Saturday morning to Friday night, he added, would alter the “family nature of graduation,” urging that the disadvantages greatly outweighed all possible advantages.