Search exposes drugs at Jackson High School

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Jackson High School was placed on lockdown for more than an hour Thursday afternoon while law enforcement officers with drug-sniffing dogs searched the school.

Some drugs were found, said principal Vince Powell, though he declined to disclose the type of drugs, the amount or the location and deferred further questions to the Jackson Police Department, which led the search.

Powell said no students were cited into juvenile court or taken into custody in connection with the findings of the search. When a student is caught with drugs in school, they are disciplined according to district policies and the incident is reported to police, Powell said. Discipline includes suspension, with the length of time varying by incident. Parents are also notified and the school offers help for the student to stop using the drug.

Lt. Rodney Barnes, spokesman for the Jackson Police Department, said a small amount of marijuana and paraphernalia were found during the search. The amount found was less than 35 grams, which would mean a misdemeanor charge for a person caught with it by police, Barnes said.

"We have these searches because drugs have been found before during searches," he said, but the items found previously were also small amounts.

Barnes said the searches are also training opportunities for the dogs. Recent changes in the way drugs like marijuana are packaged -- sometimes in pill form -- make the searches an important exercise, he said.

Powell said there have been several incidents in the past few years where students were identified by staff as being under the influence of drugs. In those situations, Powell said, the situation is treated the same way by the school as when a student is caught with drugs.

The search was the third of its kind since the start of the school year. They are typically held two to four times per school year and coordinated with law enforcement by the school's resource officer, Chris Green.

Powell said no events prompted the timing of Thursday's search, but the searches are held whenever the school and law enforcement can coordinate scheduling. Barnes also said the search was not connected to any recent arrests by the Jackson Police Department of juveniles for marijuana or drug paraphernalia.

"We do it just to let the kids know we don't want drugs on campus," Powell said.

Teachers were notified by email before the search that it would take place, and students were instructed to stay in their current classrooms. The search took about an hour and 15 minutes in the early afternoon, a time that is normally used for a daily student advisory period.

Students under the influence of alcohol during school hours have not been found this year, he said. There has also been a trend in the past few years for students who do use drugs to use synthetic marijuana, Powell said. Staff of the school is also aware, he said, that students could be using some drugs that aren't traditional illegal drugs, like cough syrup.

At Jackson High School, "we've heard that, and we know it goes on, but the thing about it is that it's harder to determine when a student has done it," Powell said.

Law enforcement searches in public schools using dogs are legal in Missouri. In January, a U.S. district judge ruled in favor of the Springfield School District and the Greene County Sheriff's Department after a Springfield city councilman and his wife sued them following an April 2010 search using a drug-sniffing dog at Central High School. The couple alleged the search involved an unreasonable search and seizure and violated their son's privacy rights.

A similar search was conducted at Jackson Junior High School during the first semester, according to its principal, Cory Crosnoe. No drugs were found in that search, he said.

School districts often initiate the searches. Cape Girardeau police spokesman Darin Hickey said several searches each year are also conducted in the Cape Girardeau School District.

Barnes said that in Jackson, like within any community, people of any age who are seeking drugs will find and use them, but overall he feels the district has a good handle on managing that situation when it comes to students, and makes many efforts to educate students on the dangers of drug use and deter the sale and use of drugs within its population.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

eragan@semissourian.com

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