School board member seeks policy review after drug sweep at Rockland high school

Posted Dec. 05, 2014, at 12:45 p.m.
Last modified Dec. 05, 2014, at 4:54 p.m.

ROCKLAND, Maine — A random search of lockers and backpacks on Thursday at Oceanside High School East turned up no illegal drugs but has raised concerns about the appropriateness of the operation.

Rockland police, assisted by canines and their handlers from the Knox County Sheriff’s Office and Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, took about 45 minutes to search for drugs, said Rockland police Detective Sgt. Chris Young. He said students were instructed to take their backpacks and leave them in the middle of the hallway outside their classrooms and then return to class.

The dogs came through and sniffed the lockers and backpacks, he said. One of the dogs detected something in a backpack, which was opened, but no illegal substances were found.

Young said one student was found to have tobacco products and was issued a summons for possession of tobacco by a minor.

Another student, who was adamant that he had to use the bathroom during the search, was searched before being allowed to go. Nothing illegal was found on him.

The school-wide search was done at the request of principal Renee Thompson.

Thompson said that there had not been problems with drugs at the school, but she wanted to be proactive and send the message to students and the community that there is a zero tolerance for drugs on campus.

She said students supported the action, knowing that there will be a safe environment for them.

Young agreed the search was done to send a message that there was zero tolerance for drugs at the high school.

“We want a safe environment for students to get an education,” he said.

But Regional School Unit 13 Board member Carol Bachofner said she is against such actions.

“Just because something is legal doesn’t mean we should do it,” Bachofner said of the search.

She said trust was a two-way street and that if school officials want students to trust them, the school officials also must show trust in the students.

Bachofner said she will call for a review of the district’s policy on such searches by the board’s policy committee.

Board Vice Chairman Loren Andrews said he supports such searches on campus but agreed that the issue should come before the board for a discussion. He said he learned about the search in an email from the superintendent after the search had been completed.

Superintendent John McDonald said the district has a policy that states the school principal may conduct random searches with the police and search dogs.

“I was fully in favor of instituting this to send a message that we will not tolerate drugs or contraband in our schools,” McDonald said. “These searches are conducted very professionally, and we are pleased to have the assistance of the police department in ensuring a safe and healthy school environment for our students.”

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