Drugs bill sparks school row

By Kristin Edge -
The bill clarified the powers of schools and teachers, in particular the situations in which drug detection dogs could be used. Photo / Gerald Ford
The bill clarified the powers of schools and teachers, in particular the situations in which drug detection dogs could be used. Photo / Gerald Ford

Ensuring drug sniffer dogs continue to detect illegal drugs in schools is essential in dealing with young people's addiction and keeping them in education, a leading Northland youth counsellor says.

Jenny Rooney-Gibbs of Rubicon, a youth alcohol and drug support service based in Whangarei, backed the continued use of dogs and drug testing in schools, saying it was beneficial to children dealing with such issues.

The Education Amendment Bill, which was introduced to Parliament last month, states teachers and contractors cannot use sniffer dogs to search a student or bag under a student's control. Schools cannot use physical force, or require a student to provide a bodily sample, and cannot do random or blanket searches of a student or a bag under a student's control. Dogs can be used only to search school buildings when there are no students present.

"Taking out the sniffer dogs would be a step backwards. The dogs help identify the kids that need help," Rooney-Gibbs said.

"Kids using drugs will continue to use and they will not learn. Their behaviour will be terrible and, due to that, they will be more likely to be excluded."

If a young person was caught in possession of or using drugs and alcohol, instead of being expelled or suspended from school they were referred to the Rubicon programme.

They sign a 12-month contract and are subject to drug testing during that time.

They remain in school and at the end of successfully completing the course there is no police record.

"I think we are breaking the cycle and getting them back into teenage life. We keep them in school and work with them," Rooney-Gibbs said.

Rubicon has been running for 11 years and up to 500 youths a year go through the programme, with an average of just 12 dropping out.

But Northland politician and former drug detective Mike Sabin said the changes in the Education Amendment Bill relating to search and surrender provisions for drugs would provide more clarity for schools and boards of trustees.

"Drugs are a real concern to teachers and parents alike, and most importantly are harmful to students and the learning environment. In support of the school community, it is very important to strike a balance with the needs of teachers to effectively manage their students and provide safe learning environments, with the rights of the students to be free from unreasonable search and seizure," he said.

The bill clarified the powers of schools and teachers, in particular the situations in which drug detection dogs could be used.

The bill is currently open for submissions before Parliament's education and science select committee. The deadline for submissions is January 24, 2013.

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