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LUHS board of education discusses backpacks, student searches

January 17, 2020 by Kayla Houp

During the Lakeland Union High School board’s policy committee report, the topic of metal detection wands and student searches was once again revisited by the board.

“We did come up with a policy, but there are some things that we have a question about within that policy and have directed Mr. (district administrator Rob) Way and Ms. (district administrator’s secretary Lisa) Kennedy to check further with our legal people,” board member and policy committee chair Barb Peck said.

Those questions were brought before the board Monday night, one of which revolved around the use of trained canines for drug detection in the district.

The district’s policy states the district “shall not use trained canine units to sniff a student’s person, including articles of clothing a student is wearing or a bag while the student is holding it.”

Peck said both she and board member Jon Berg had questions as to why the district wouldn’t allow a canine unit to sniff a person or their bag, and the question was being looked into.

“From what I know about it, there’s a strongly discouraged sniffs of a person in case the dog indicates in an aggressive manner,” LUHS principal Justin Szews said. 

Szews said the Minocqua Police Department K-9 unit is a passive alerter, but policy protected the district from liability if an aggressive alerter was used.

“Which is why we’re talking about wands to deal with those areas,” Peck said.

Board member Pamela Carroll asked if the canine searches were referenced in the district’s student handbook.

“Isn’t that a place where we could put that where if you are, to reduce the liability that be part of our student handbook, that we use the canine,” Carroll said. “And if you wish to bring contraband in areas in which you do not want an aggressive alerter to be touching, you should not put it there?”

Carroll added that the school was a “zero tolerance” district.



Won’t find contraband

Berg raised the concern that metal detection wands would be unable to detect contraband material.

“What if somebody has a plastic baggie stuffed with either cocaine or pills?” he asked.

With THC vape cartridges becoming more prevalent at Lakeland, as well as other schools in the area, metal detection wands can be used to conduct non-intrusive searches.

“Do you know if it is actually illegal to have dogs sniff students, or is that just by choice that we don’t?” Peck asked

Szews said in his experience working with canine handlers at schools throughout his career, they wouldn’t allow their canine to conduct student searches.

The policy would also authorize the use of stationary metal detectors, which Peck and Berg said they have questions about.

“We had not determined that was something the board wanted,” Peck said. “We were still in the investigative stage regarding them.”

Peck said the language regarding stationary detectors could be left in the policy in the event the board does approve them, even if the district wasn’t to move in that direction at the moment.

“The other one in this policy says, ‘to the extent prohibited by law, school employees shall not request or require a student to disclose the access information to any of the student’s personal email accounts,’” Peck said. “Our question is, why not?”

“I know that has to do with search and seizure rules and what’s considered to be private property versus public property,” board member Barry Seidel said.

Seidel said while he didn’t have enough information to “speak intelligently” about the matter, he understood it was an issue with what the district could, and could not, search.

Peck said she was aware students’ social media profiles were looked at “to try and see what they’re up to” if there was the question of a threat, and that the matter was also being looked into.



Backpacks

Szews reminded the board that the items in his report weren’t a “done deal” and were still open for discussion.

Szews said he had discussions with staff and students as to whether students should be allowed to carry backpacks with them throughout the day, or if they should be left in their lockers during school hours.

“I think probably not moving forward, but we have some discussion to do yet, some more to do to figure out just how that looks,” he said. 

He added LUHS was one of the few schools in the region still allowing students to carry backpacks throughout the day.

“With the interest of students in mind, likely it will take a tweaking of how we have our schedule put together, if we are expecting students to use their lockers, like we will be,” Szews said.



Other items

• Approved the 2020-2021 Open Enrollment Special Education Space Determinations.

• Discussed information sheets summarizing the Feb. 18 referendum approved by the board in October to exceed the revenue limit by $3.45 million, beginning with the 2020-2021 school year.

The purpose of the referendum, according to the sheet, is to address the district’s key needs in terms of instruction, facilities maintenance, and supporting, developing and enhancing multiple levels of educational support.

Should the referendum pass, the impact on a $100,000 home is expected to be $4.33 per month, or $52 annually.

Kayla Houp may be reached via email at [email protected].

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