Police dogs soon will be sniffing lockers and cars for drugs on high school campuses, though trustees are divided on the new policy.
The Fremont school board voted 3-2 Wednesday night to approve the measure, joining several other districts around the area in ramping up efforts to curtail drug use.
Board President Lily Mei and Trustees Lara York and Ivy Wu voted in favor, while Trustees Bryan Gebhardt and Larry Sweeney were opposed.
"We're talking about illegal substances, not just substances that minors shouldn't have, but illegal substances," York said. "So they have no place on our campuses, ever."
Sweeney, though, said he doesn't think the district needs such a policy, at least not yet.
"Our problem with drugs and alcohol is a real problem," he said. "I don't know if it rises to this level."
There were 21 drug incidents on Fremont campuses in the 2008-09 school year, 49 the next year, 54 last year and 41 in the first seven months of this year, according to police data.
Nine percent of Fremont ninth-graders and 14 percent of 11th-graders reported smoking marijuana at least once in the previous 30 days, according to the most recent California Health Kids Survey, taken in 2009-10. Seventeen percent of ninth-graders and 26 percent of 11th-graders reported using alcohol or some form of illegal drugs in the same period.
"My objective is to keep my campus safe, and when students have drugs in their locker or drugs in their car, and they're not focused on learning, then that is a problem for me," Irvington High School Principal Sarah Smoot said. "An ideal situation for me would be to have the dogs do a search and find nothing, because then it will have done its job."
The Newark and Pleasanton school boards approved similar plans earlier this year. Castro Valley, Dublin and Livermore already use canines on campuses.
Superintendent Jim Morris said Fremont's policy will focus on education and deterrence. Students will not be present during the searches, which will be conducted in parking lots and locker rooms only, according to the policy.
The dogs cannot sniff students or items on their persons without their consent.
The dogs won't be used in classrooms or other district facilities when the rooms are occupied, except for demonstrations.
The policy also authorizes school officials to search lockers on a regular, announced basis and to search students or their belongings if there is "reasonable suspicion" the search will uncover evidence they are breaking the law.
District officials discussed the new policy with parent and student groups before bringing it to the board.
"I think we have overwhelming support from, not just the parents, but the school administrators as well," said Fremont police Sgt. Jim Koepf, supervisor of the district's school resource officers.
"The dog is not an end-all, but it's another tool for us to use."
Still, Gebhardt said he was concerned about the random nature of the searches and their effectiveness, as well as the potential for false positives and the impact that could have on students.
"I would much prefer that we exhaust every other option before we consider random searches like this, and I'm not supportive at this time," he said. "I think there's enough controversy around this, and it's enough of an invasion (of privacy) of the vast majority of our students that are doing nothing wrong."
York disagreed, saying the vast majority of students won't be affected.