Special Report: A Dog in the Fight

CURRITUCK, N.C. (WAVY) – In an effort to streamline the process of searching for drugs and keeping them off school campuses, the Currituck County School District will get its own drug dog.

Administrators say the unusual plan was in place last year, before a parent spoke out at a December school board meeting, and two students were hospitalized with apparent drug overdoses in early January.

“The drug situation, something has to be done about it,” parent Andrea Ritter told the school board.

Just a few weeks later, two high school students were rushed to the hospital with apparent drug overdoses. The EMS chief says their reaction was consistent with the synthetic marijuana, known as spice.

Within hours, the sheriff’s department arrested a third student, Xavier Clark. The 18-year-old is charged with supplying the drugs.

“We’re not pleased that somebody brought something to the campus and gave it to some fellow classmates,” Superintendent of Schools Mark Stefanik told 10 On Your Side.

But months before the ambulances came, Currituck School officials say they had an innovative plan to cut drug use on campus.

School Board Chair Bill Dobney said he wanted the district where he went to school, and served as a principal and superintendent, to be pro-active.

“I got the idea one day: Why don’t we just get our own drug dog? That way, we would have access any time we wanted.”

Hunter
Hunter

Currituck schools will have Hunter, a black Labrador, in place by April. 10 On Your Side spoke with the Chesapeake Sheriff’s Office about its own drug-sniffing lab, Max. The dog’s handler is an undercover drug investigator who says he hasn’t heard of a school district having its own dog.

Max is trained to find marijuana, cocaine, heroin, ecstasy and methamphetamine, but not prescription drugs, which could be legal if they’re prescribed. Currituck’s dog will get similar training.

Currituck administrators say they’ll get legal guidance from the county attorney about when the drug dog can and cannot be used.

“One thing I know we can’t do, you can’t just take a dog in a classroom and parade him around and try to locate drugs,” Dobney said

Stefanik says the district can use Hunter in specific scenarios where drugs are suspected, in lockers and vehicles, and the building as a whole.

Another legal matter that Currituck will need to work out with the use of the new drug dog is the standard of either “reasonable suspicion” that drugs are present, or the tougher standard of “probable cause.”

Stefanik disputes any public perception that drugs are rampant in Currituck schools, given the number of drug discipline cases last year — 12.

“By using the drug dog, you would hope to see that number come down.”

In addition to a school resource officer, the superintendent says Hunter will be part of an overall drug abuse education program that already includes an annual program with law enforcement.

“They can talk about situations that they’ve actually witnessed, and they can tell students real life stories of drug abuse and what it can do to you,” Stefanik said.

Dobney stressed the importance of taking proactive steps before drugs get out of hand. “We take it seriously. if you even have one case, that’s a drug problem.”

Currituck will spend about $11,500 to buy and train Hunter.

“Even if we save one student from getting on drugs, that’s well worth it,” Dobney said.

Xavier Clark is scheduled to appear in court March 1.