Officers gave Payson High School a clean bill of health Tuesday after drug sniffing K-9s came up empty handed.
No one was arrested after the three-hour unannounced search of the high school’s parking lot and classrooms. Only one student had their car searched after a dog picked up the faint smell of a substance. A further search by officers found no drugs.
Payson Unified School District Superintendent Casey O’Brien said he was pleased with the results.
“A number of years ago a sweep like this (at a different high school) resulted in a significant number of arrests, revealing that the school had a serious heroin problem,” he said. “In our sweep, the outcome was positive, in that no drugs were discovered.”
The sweep was conducted in the morning while students and staff participated in an evacuation drill.
Deputies from the Gila County Sheriff’s Office brought three K-9s on campus for the sweep.
The dogs sniffed the entire campus, including every car in the parking lot. At no time, however, were the students exposed to the dogs, O’Brien said.
O’Brien stressed that although these types of sweeps are legal and used commonly at other school districts, “I believe they should be used sparingly.”
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, although students have rights on campus, the courts have ruled that school officials and police have leeway to conduct searches to protect student safety. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled being sniffed by a K-9 is not considered a search because it is not an intrusive way to find contraband.
Therefore, although students may not like it, to ensure student safety, school officials have the flexibility to conduct searches.
At PHS, O’Brien said most students are “very reluctant to report” drugs on campus even when they do not approve of the activity.
“If students are bringing drugs to campus for sale or use, there are few avenues available to identify those involved,” he said. “The sweep reinforces the zero tolerance policies that all school districts in Arizona operate under.”
Only one student and their vehicle were searched during the sweep. Police asked the student for permission to search the vehicle and he agreed.
“Apparently the car was recently purchased. The dog’s sense of smell is so acute that it’s possible that it could have alerted on drug residue from a previous owner,” O’Brien said.
PHS Principal Kathe Ketchem, Dean of Students Anna VanZile and school resource officer Jared Meredith coordinated the search along with the PPD and GCSO.