PLEASANTON -- When more drugs and dealing in the parking lot began showing up at Granada High School in Livermore six years ago, student resource officer Dan Cabral called in the dogs.
"The first time we brought out the dog it found (oxycodone)," said Cabral, who has been patrolling Granada for the past six years. "Using the dogs on a random basis has lessened the drugs on campus. There are some, but it has made a huge difference."
On Tuesday, Pleasanton school district trustees could join a small number of Bay Area school districts -- including Livermore, Dublin and Castro Valley -- that use drug-sniffing dogs for random searches of the parking lots and physical education locker rooms when students are not present.
Sparked by a rise in drug-related suspensions at Foothill High School in Pleasanton, school leaders and the district began taking steps during the 2010-11 school year to bring Pleasanton police dogs, at no cost to the district, to its campuses.
After bringing drug-sniffing dogs to the Granada campus in Livermore, Cabral said the program has been a deterrent and reduced the number of drug-related offenses.
But as Pleasanton ponders the decision, some board members question the intent and effectiveness of the dogs while others, including the district's three high school principals, say it's another tool to create drug-free campuses.
"We have had a significant increase in drug suspensions," said Foothill principal John Dwyer, who pointed out the concern over the types of drugs. "So we are trying to find tools and means to prevent abuse by kids."
Dwyer pointed to Foothill's 29 drug-related suspensions this year, which is three more than all of the 2010-11 school year.
Before Granada began using drug-sniffing dogs provided through the Livermore Police Department, the campus on the city's western edge had 65 suspensions related to drugs sales, possession or paraphernalia in the 2006-07 year, according to figures from the California Department of Education.
Since dogs started conducting searches the following year, the number has dropped to 40 suspensions, according to the most recent data through the 2009-10 school year. But while the program has positively affected Granada's suspensions, the number at Livermore High School has increased from 40 to 69 over the same time period.
"The effectiveness of (drug-sniffing dogs) remains to be seen," said Diana Tate Vermeire, Racial Justice Project director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California.
"School district's would be better served with more positive interventions," she said. "These are youths, and addressing the underlying drug problem is better than using dogs to intimidate students."
Pleasanton board member Jamie Hintzke voiced similar concerns at a Jan. 10 meeting when the district first presented the proposal to trustees. At the meeting, Hintzke brought up concerns about the intent of the dogs and the overall goal of the district. She asked for more details about the legal issues with the use of the dogs and more data on the success other district's have had.
"We need to rely on several things, like kids giving tips, teachers giving tips and then people having discussions about it," said Hintzke, who also asked for a board policy on use of the dogs. "It has to be a really big approach, and it bothers me right now because I haven't heard from students, and they are not empowered. They are not saying anything."
A group of Foothill juniors said Thursday that since their freshman year they have noticed a difference in the number of students using drugs and bringing them on campus.
"It will help at school but not off campus," Kayla McGill, a junior, said about the dogs. "They will just not come to school anymore, and the dogs won't resolve the problem unless the drugs get confiscated and the parents know. Otherwise nothing will change."
The school board will meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday at district offices, 4665 Bernal Ave., Pleasanton.
Robert Jordan covers Pleasanton and Livermore. Contact him at 925-847-2184.
School Year Drug Drug All suspensions/
suspensions expulsions expulsions
Granada 2009-10 40 6 185
Granada 2006-07 65 0 328
Livermore 2009-10 69 9 308
Livermore 2006-07 40 2 298
Castro Valley 2009-10 31 5 286
Castro Valley 2006-07 9 1 161
Dublin 2009-10 52 1 134
Dublin 2006-07 24 0 206
PLEASANTON HIGH SCHOOLS (which may add dog searches)
Amador Valley 2009-10 29 3 122
Amador Valley 2006-07 16 4 117
Foothill 2009-10 41 9 117
Foothill 2006-07 21 0 138
Village 2009-10 21 2 132
Village 2006-07 14 0 235
Source: California Department of Education