Muskego — After three reviews and a robust discussion, the Muskego-Norway School Board narrowly voted to amend a policy on searching student property on school premises.
Board members voted 4-3 in favor of the revised policy at the Monday, Aug. 18, meeting. New language gives police more latitude in conducting canine searches of student property, particularly in classrooms.
While Muskego-Norway has a policy concerning searching student property on its books, there was no previous language about canine searches.
Superintendent Kelly Thompson said the canine discussion came to light, in part, from responses in a parent survey.
The recent review comes during a heightened awareness of growing heroin use throughout Southeast Wisconsin. According to recent data, Racine and Waukesha counties rank third and fourth, respectively, for heroin overdoses across the state.
Before voting on the new policy, the district sought advice from legal counsel at Quarles and Brady. During first and second readings of the document, several board member expressed concerns of possible constitutional challenges.
In a memo to the district, Attorneys Michael Aldana and Steve Kruzel pointed to data within the district and the city of Muskego itself.
In the past five years, Muskego High School has reported 70 incidents of drug use and possession of drug paraphernalia.
In response to the issue, the district has worked with the Muskego Police Department and conducted 11 canine searches of the high school and its parking lot. Eight of those 11 searches revealed drugs on the high school campus.
"This data alone should be sufficient evidence, based on the cases summarized above, to justify the district's legitimate need to enact the canine search policy at this time," Aldana and Kruzel wrote in the memo.
But several board members maintained different perspectives and believed the new provisions might be overreaching.
"The data is helpful, but you can look at it and interpret it in different ways," board member Lisa Warwick said. "I, myself, don't think we have a record that justifies it. But I'm just one member of the board."
Board member Eric Schroeder also had reservations of bringing canines into the classroom, particularly if parents raised student privacy concerns. He asserted there was not enough data to justify ramping up the student search policy.
"Is there a problem? There very well could be," Schroeder said of drug use. "But I just don't know if I want to take the chance of spending district money on an appeal, if someone were to challenge this."
But other board members said they believed routine canine searches would reduce the presence of drugs on school grounds.
"I'm not sold that we have a heroin issue at the high school, but I am sold that there is an opiate issue," School Board President Rick Petfalski said. "In this case, I think we have tools in front of us that could save some lives."
Several Muskego law enforcement officers were present last week to discuss canine searches. Officer Shawn Diedrich serves as Muskego Police Department's drug investigator and handles the agency's canine, Sirius.
"The dog's not sniffing out Cheetos. He has no interest in that," Diedrich said. "He will search out drugs and any residual paraphernalia."
Thompson said the policy can be reviewed and potentially be revised again at a later date, based on the outcome of the pilot phase.
"There is more of a risk here, and I acknowledge that," Thompson said.
In addition to Petfalski, board members voting in favor of the canine search policy included Brett Hyde, Robert Bohmann and Chris Buckmaster. Board member Dean Strom joined Schroeder and Warwick in voting against the policy.
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