Students no longer subject to searches by drug-sniffing dogs

Posted: Wednesday, November 07, 2001

LORDSBURG, N.M. (AP) -- In a settlement of a lawsuit, the Lordsburg school system agreed to stop subjecting students to searches by drug-sniffing dogs.

The lawsuit filed by attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union had argued that the searches violated students' constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizure.

A hearing was scheduled for Monday but school officials decided before that to settle the case. In addition to stopping the use of dogs, they agreed to pay plaintiffs' attorney fees and costs.

School officials decided the dogs were no longer necessary because of other effective ways of seeking out drug possession, such as observation of student behavior, said Charles Hayes, superintendent in the 800-student district.

During the searches, conducted randomly since 1997, a targeted school was placed under lockdown and a dog, restrained on a leash, walked up and down rows of students who were seated at their desks.

The searches were initiated because the Lordsburg area is ''on the marijuana superhighway,'' said Frank Albetta, an attorney representing the school district.

Lordsburg is in the state's southwestern boot heel, which borders Mexico and is designated a high-intensity drug trafficking area by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Plaintiffs' attorney Jane Gagne said that while the use of dogs to sniff lockers and cars on school property is an established practice, using dogs to sniff students is a ''very questionable, intrusive practice, and just not necessary.''

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