By Greg Gelpi
The possibility of bringing dogs into Clayton County schools drew both support and opposition from parents Monday night.
"We need to take control of our learning environment," Larry O'Keefe said.
But, Bob Hartley, another parent, opposed the use of dogs.
"My child comes home oftentimes and asks for money for school supplies," Hartley said. "I think we need books, not dogs."
O'Keefe and Hartley were two of many to address the Clayton County Board of Education as it considered whether or not to accept a proposal by Clayton County schools Superintendent Barbara Pulliam to bring dogs into schools in response to a recent wave of escalating violence. The board approved the measure for the pilot program 8-0-1 with board member Lois Baines Hunter abstaining
"The district believes there to be some benefits to using trained canines to detect narcotics, alcohol and gunpowder in and on school premises," the proposal before the board read. "The benefits of such a program would be deterrence of contraband, a visual re-enforcement for students, for students to say no to drugs, assist students in feeling safe, weed out troubled students and deter 'at risk' students. It could also reduce suspensions and expulsions, prevent students from bringing contraband on campus and improve school ranking and community standing."
"Gentler" dogs would be used in the school system before and after school hours to search the grounds of the system's high schools and alternative school, but not to search students, Pulliam said. The pilot program will run until May 27, when a report will be made to the board.
Funding for the dogs would come from federal grants and law enforcement search and seizure funds.
Pulliam said the dogs are only part of "several new and heightened procedures" she outlined in a letter she sent to parents recently.
Other changes include restricting access to schools and monitoring hallways during the change of class.
The request for dogs follows a recent string of school violence, including a Forest Park High School teacher who was beaten by students, a Kendrick Middle School fight involving more than 25 students and Alternative School students arrested for making death threats.
"I don't want a tragedy in the school district either," Pulliam told parents of those involved in the Kendrick fight recently. "It's not my wish to have a metal detector for students to walk through, but it's not something that I will say that I will not do."
Pulliam said more walkie-talkies and wand metal detectors have already been ordered.
The metal detectors will be used "randomly and also in cases of suspicion," she said.
Previously, Pulliam had said that money had been "earmarked" to increase personnel for patrolling schools to boost security.
The school system is also working on training parents and staff to better deal with the problem of gangs, and efforts are under way to recruit more Hispanic staff at all levels to better communicate with the Hispanic population.