Canine units to start searching Loudoun Co. high schools for illegal narcotics

Canine teams will start randomly searching Loudoun County, Virginia, high schools next month, Superintendent Aaron Spence said, as part of a plan to deter students from bringing illegal substances onto school campuses.

The scans, which will be conducted through a partnership with the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office and Leesburg Police, are scheduled to start in March. Students won’t be told about them in advance, but the school district said it will communicate with students’ families once the scans are done.

The program comes amid concerns about suspected student opioid overdoses and the popularity of other substances, including vaping devices.

The concept of bringing canine teams into schools isn’t new. In 1989, for example, Fairfax County Public Schools announced plans to use drug-sniffing dogs in schools, The Washington Post reported.

However, a Fairfax County schools spokeswoman said that program isn’t in place in Virginia’s largest school district anymore. Arlington Public Schools also doesn’t have a program similar to the one Loudoun is launching, a spokesman there said.

Montgomery County Public Schools, Maryland’s largest school district, has a memorandum of understanding with the county’s police department. But a school division spokesman said it doesn’t “reference or provide for random canine scans of our schools.”

Nonetheless, Loudoun County leaders are hopeful the sweeps will serve as an effective deterrent.

“We’re sending the message that we mean business. This is serious, we need to take this seriously,” said Dan Adams, a Loudoun schools spokesman. “The kids need to keep this stuff out of our schools, and keep it out of their homes and keep it out of their pockets, because this is some really dangerous stuff.”

As part of the planned scans, the dog units will walk through common spaces and unoccupied classrooms. They won’t be “going up to kids and sniffing their pockets or anything like that,” Adams said.

Michele Bowman, spokeswoman for the Leesburg Police Department, said the dogs will be searching for illegal narcotics, but they’re not trained to search for marijuana.

The school division is anticipating the sweeps will take about an hour and a half, with minimal disruption to class time.

The program, Bowman said, has been in the works for months.

If a dog alerts an officer to a substance it discovers, police will have the opportunity to search lockers, Bowman said. She described a false positive alert as “very unlikely.”

The school district will evaluate the program’s effectiveness at the end of the school year and consider whether to implement it again next fall.

Adams, with the school division, said it’s one step the county is taking to address what he called a “crisis in our community.”

“This isn’t an issue where we’re going to be able to ‘consequence’ our way out of it,” Adams said. “There’s not going to be a magic fix.”

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Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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