metablue.jpg (14625 bytes)


February 27, 2006, Volume 13 Nr. 37, Issue 205

Rover Goes to School: Sniffing 
Our Kids' Civil Liberties Away

Jozef Hand-Boniakowski, and
JeanneE Hand-Boniakowski

Janelle Brown in, Why Drug Tests Flunk, (April 2002,, writes,

Indeed, at least at school, giving up Fourth Amendment rights is becoming a way of demonstrating patriotism. Scott Linke explains the mentality that is now prevalent...about drug testing: "People say, 'I'm a good person, therefore I don't need my rights, because what do I have to lose? Go ahead, I'll show you I have nothing to hide.' "

"Acceptance of this is a badge of honor," he says. "That's nefarious: It's being guilty until proven innocent. That's not the American way: It's the totalitarian police state. But an entire generation is being raised with this mentality."

So it is with the acceptance of drug-sniffing dogs in our schools.  Encroachment upon the civil liberties of teens seems to matter little.  We have become a nation where civil liberties matter less and less.  We are tracked, wire tapped, our homes searched without warrant, our reading material and internet usage tracked, our health records and spending patterns filed.  Our emails are read and our words are archived and often manipulated.  Our presence is videotaped in the streets, stores, airports, schools, just about everywhere. Our relationships have become salacious reading material for domestic spy agencies.  Our children are continuously suspect, and now, sniffed. We too easily accept the loss of more and more of our freedoms.  Perhaps the day will come when education administrators conclude that enough is enough  Perhaps, when their own rights have all disappeared, they will decide to just say no to the loss of civil liberties.  

In the surveillance culture that the United States has become, notions of patriotism have become dangerously skewed.  Somehow we have come to accept the creepy meme that when we give up our rights like privacy we are being patriotic.  That voluntary waiving of our civil liberties is a great proof of our patriotism.  This misguided patriotism is acceptance of despotism.  It is fascism.  

The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government lest it come to dominate our lives and interests. Patrick Henry

Dog Sniffing in the Green Mountains

Recently, a Vermont school decided to bring police and their drug-sniffing dogs to its campus.  The school administration determined this was necessary after reviewing the results of a student survey.  One-fifth of the school's student population said that drugs could be purchased on its campus.  The  decision to sniff the school premises assumes the worst in students.  It brands the students guilty until proven innocent.  Drug-sniffing dogs will not resolve the issue of drug use and abuse, but will have long-lasting negative repercussions.  Allowing drug-sniffing dogs into schools does not deal with the complex issues of supply and demand, and the relationship between the free enterprise system, its profit motive, and the desire for people to self-medicate.  It does not take into account society's constant pressures.  It ignores the severe, endemic institutional, family and personal stress.  

As society more absurdly narrows the boundaries within which people must live, it redefines normal behavior.  Not taking drugs of one kind or another is abnormal behavior as the United States adult population routinely self-medicates.  Normal adults pop pills for every malady imaginable, from headaches and colds to obesity, anxiety and depression.  Adults pop pills to fall asleep, stay awake, enhance libido, eat more, eat less, overcome anxiety, phobias, depression, shyness, enhance their immune system.  Adults consume drugs when they smoke cigarettes, cigars, and pipes, chew tobacco, drink coffee, cappuccino, tea, beer, scotch, gin, vodka, bourbon, rum, wine, take aspirin, ibuprofen, pain medication, eat chocolate.  And, of course, the vast majority of users of illegal drugs (like marijuana, heroin, met amphetamines and coke) are not teens, but adults.

Pills For Every Occasion

It is easy to conclude that the United States is an addicted nation, considering all of the drugs and the enhancing supplements its people consume.  One can get a "free Viagra Value Card" at many pharmacies: after filling six prescriptions, the seventh is free.  While kickbacks may be illegal in bars and pubs, they are part of the way pharmacies do business.  There have been 130,000,000 legal prescriptions for Viagra filled.  Former U.S. Senator Bob Dole tested Viagra and became an ardent spokesperson for the drug, starring in television commercials for the product.  Viagra, a long- acting nitrate, is a popular way of attempting to alleviate depression in our society.  Viagra celebrated its 6th anniversary in 2004.  According to Pfizer, the maker of the drug, 30,000,000 men worldwide have erectile dysfunction.  

There are pills available to supposedly enhance brain function.  Buying these supplements might indicate a need for better brain use, but not a need for these supplements.  As for their benefits, the product manufacturer stands the most to gain.  The herbal tea and supplements market is huge.  This despite the fact that few very herbal/dietary supplements have been shown by science to have any beneficial effects, yet they are made and marketed with no legal requirement to prove content, safety, or efficacy (See: Food and Drug Safety: The Concumer Handbook).  Sales for 2004 were over $27,000,000 (Herbalgram).  The market is so big that the pharmaceutical giants have taken notice, not because of the efficacy of the supplements, but because of the prospects of grabbing a huge chunk of the market.  If you bottle the pills, people will pop them.  If you package an herbal supplement, people will drink it.  

On Tuesday, February 21, 2006, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that members of O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal, a small New Mexico religious congregation, may use a hallucinogenic tea, which contains the illegal drug known as DMT, as part of their rituals to connect with their God.  (Court Allows Church's Hallucinogenic Tea, AP).  If institutionalized cults, no matter how small, can use drugs in their religious ceremonies, why cannot individuals?  Surely, a religious belief with one adherent is just as valid as one with millions.  Students clearly see the hypocrisy when it comes to drugs.  They are well aware that adults, their role models, take various meds while hammering them for doing the same.  

War Obsessions

Joe Blankenau and Mark Leeper, in their article Public School Search Policies and the "Politics of Sin", (Volume 31 Issue 4 of the Policy Studies Journal, November 2003), write:

There has been a significant rise in the number of random drug searches, despite the principals' observation that these measures neither lessen drug use nor catch perpetrators...Principals articulate limited concern for student rights, and students largely accept searches without resistance.

Blankenau and Leeper refer to drug searches as "waging the drug war in our nation's classrooms and hallways."   The war goes on with police dogs roaming the hallways of our schools led by uniformed and armed officers, often trained by the military.  We are a nation at war with ourselves.

Our society is obsessed with war.  We wage war on just about everything.  We name domestic public policy campaigns as "The war on...." hunger, poverty, crime, pollution, terror, fat, etc.  In our foreign policy, we wage violent and deadly wars of choice, convenience, and imperialism.  Our schools have long been a battleground in the war on (some) drugs.  Both good and bad tactics have been used for decades in schools, from 70's "rap sessions", to "Scared Straight" tours of cons and ex-cons as motivational speakers, to DARE, to Health classes, to those driver education movies that dramatize the prior events and then show real police film footage of the car crashes.  The current surveillance which includes drug-sniffing dogs is yet another tactic in the war on drugs, which, unlike those previous mentioned, are explicitly not educational and explicitly not about respecting students.  Quite the contrary.

With each new domestic war waged, there comes a restructuring of the established order.  On the battlefield of the school, we can expect a shift in the established academic climate.  Will it be toward more resentment and (hopefully) rebellion as the police state further encroaches into the school, or toward less resentment as the school culture sheepily and sleepily assumes the notion that a militarized school culture is a good thing?  Control, discipline, morality, safety...these are the buzzwords by which fascisms are sold to society.

And what of the academic environment?  Much emphasis over the past decade has been placed on not interrupting the academic learning environment.  The argument is that time-on-task is vital for learning to take place.  No longer is it considered good educational policy to interrupt instruction.  Yet police dogs performing drug searches will do just that.  In the student project at the University of Illinois at Urbana, Surveillance in Schools: Safety vs. Personal Privacy, Kathy Davis, John Kelsey, Dia Langellier, Misty Mapes, and Jeff Rosendahl write,

When drug-sniffing dogs come in to search the lockers, it often requires that the halls be clear of students.  This too can cause problems.  The search must be conducted while students are in class. Once they see or hear what is going on in the hallway, their attention will no longer be on the classroom material but on what is happening in the hall. 

The Urbana student project points out that the definition of the word "surveillance" is: "close observation, especially of a suspected person".  With police dogs roaming the school campus and hallways, everyone becomes a "suspected person".  This is necessarily the case, as the ACLU makes clear on its student rights website. In response to the question, "Can the school search the entire student body or an entire class just because they suspect one student?" the ACLU states,

No. Since the law says that there must be a reasonable suspicion that the individual student or students to be searched are violating school rules, information that some students are using drugs should not justify a search of everyone in the class, or at a school football game, or at the prom.  Not all courts agree, however, that there must always be "individualized" suspicion before a larger group is searched.

The ACLU makes a point of stressing the following regarding drug-sniffing dogs,

The Supreme Court has ruled that a sniff of unattended personal belongings is not a search. Some lower courts have held that when a dog is used to sniff the student herself, it is a search that must be reasonable under all of the circumstances. The ACLU believes this means that the search must be based on individualized suspicion. The ACLU has also challenged school policies that require students to leave belongings in a classroom so that dogs can be brought in to sniff them. Importantly, the California Attorney General has issued an opinion saying that such policies are unconstitutional. No court has yet ruled on this.

Comfortable That Something Is Being Done

What about sniffing for tobacco?  Dogs can be easily trained to find tobacco.  Why are there no tobacco-sniffing dogs in our school?  Tobacco is a gateway drug.  Perhaps, some day, the fantasy will become reality when drug-detecting dogs are capable of sniffing athletic-enhancing supplements, alcohol, and anti-depressant medications (prescribed legally or otherwise).  School officials could throw in a canine or two capable of testing high concentrations of caffeine, tannic acid, or the ubiquitous depressant: television viewing.  The schools would have to close as there would be no-one left for the dogs to check.  We could then let the canine patrols loose to check on the community itself.  Faster than one can say, "Are the dogs sniffing the school hallways?", just about everyone would be whisked away to private penal institutions that already profit handsomely from the "just say no to drugs" industry.

School administrations project the illusion that something is being done about drugs in the school.  Drug usage exists, however, not all drug use is a problem, nor is it a symptom of a problem.  To assume so implies that taking drugs is always, or even usually, a bad thing.  Schools should examine the means by which they determine whether there is, in fact, a drug problem.  To always, or even usually, pathologize drug use is a habit we have fallen into in the last century.  The fact is that human use of "drugs" including narcotics, hallucinogens, stimulants, mood altering substances, wine, caffeine, cigarettes, mushrooms, ganja, beer, etc., is as old as civilization.  As a nation, we have become "tough on crime".  When drug-sniffing dogs certify that the school hallways are clear, we think we know something is finally being done about the drug problem.  We can rest comfortably that the drug problem has gone away when the dogs sound the all clear.  This is, of course, a delusion.

The debate rages within our communities about drug searches, including by drug-sniffing police dogs.  Faculty often applaud the introduction of the police and their dogs into the schools.  Militarization of our federal, state, county and local carabinieri, combined with the supra-constitutional authority granted by the misnamed PATRIOT Act, have now put into place the ingredients required for totalitarianism.  Apparently loss of liberty matters little in this age of being homeland secure.  Whatever that means.

If only we could apply this same toughness onto the members of Congress and the White House.  Most students' drug involvement and history of making poor choices cannot be expunged from their personal file.  Their fathers and families do not have massive wealth and political connections of a George W. Bush.  I suggest letting the sniffing dogs loose in the White House, House of Representatives, and the Senate.  They can then sniff the school administrative offices.  If students are to be suspects under surveillance, then so too should the administrators and faculty be.

Drug-sniffing dogs in our schools will do little to alleviate drug use or abuse.  It will foster an atmosphere of increased surveillance in a society where privacy, trust, and presumed innocence are becoming historical artifacts.  Many accept this loss of civil liberties.  This is a big mistake.  Thurgood Marshall said, "History teaches that grave threats to liberty often come in times of urgency...when the scourge is manifest...and the need for action is great."  One can strenuously question whether there exists a time of urgency within our schools that warrants drastic action.  One cannot, however, question that the loss of teens' civil liberties in our schools is tragic and reprehensible.  Thurgood Marshall further stated that one of the goals of terrorism is "getting governments to show their repressive, true colors."  School administrators should know better.  As agents of school government, they have an obligation not to repress the least vulnerable among us, our youth.  For, if they are successful, they may find in their latter years that the products of their schools have learned well and taken all their remaining civil liberties away.  

"How fortunate for governments that the people they administer don't think." - Adolf Hitler.

Jozef Hand-Boniakowski is co-editor and co-publisher of Metaphoria along with his life partner and wife, JeanneE.  He is 30-year veteran retired teacher and a member of Veterans For Peace.  His writings have appeared in Metaphoria, After Downing Street, Buzzflash, Counterpunch, Thomas Paine's Corner,, Omni Center, Rutland Herald, Times Argus, and others.  

JeanneE Hand-Boniakowski is co-editor and co-publisher of Metaphoria along with her life partner and husband, Jozef  Her writings have appeared Metaphoria, Quackwatch, The Quack Files, and others.

2006 Jozef Hand-Boniakowski and JeanneE Hand-Boniakowski

Return to Homepage