The Board of Education has put off a decision on allowing drug-sniffing dogs in schools for too long, according to a longtime and prominent member of New Canaan’s legislative body.
Advocates have been urging district officials to give access to a New Canaan Police Department K-9 dog for years, Town Councilman Steve Karl said Wednesday night.
“And I understand that there are two sides of this, but you have to come to some sort of decision and compromise at some point,” Karl said during the Town Council’s regular meeting, held at Town Hall.
“The citizens of this town want this done. They do. The parents do. The citizens want it done. Why it’s taking so long, I have no idea. But it’s time. It is beyond time. Way past time. We’ve got to get this done.”
The comments came during an update on the status of the effort from Town Council Chair John Engel. The matter came to the fore during budget talks last month, when Police Chief Leon Krolikowski told the Board of Selectmen that getting a drug-sniffing dog access to public schools ranks high among NCPD priorities. Krolikowski said there’s a “high likelihood” that students possess and possibly deal drugs at New Canaan High School.
Engel put a discussion of a policy for the K-9 access on the Town Council’s agenda, leading to a discussion with Board of Education Chair Katrina Parkhill, he said.
As reported by Engel, Parkhill asked about the agenda item and he answered that it was there “beacuse we had an expectation that the Board of was going to pass a policy in February.”
Citing his conversation with Parkhill, Engel told that councilmen that the Board of Ed has drafted a policy that it will vote on at its March meeting.
“It authorizes the [Board] to enter into a MOU [Memorandum of Understanding] with the chief of police,” Engel said.
The approved MOU itself could be presented to the police within one month, Engel said.
Karl said he was skeptical.
Referring to an agreement between the town and Board of Ed regarding a revenue-generating “enterprise zone” overseen by the New Canaan Athletic Foundation, Karl said, “Watching what happened with our enterprise zone and an MOU—which was delivered, 100% draft and delivered, and that took one calendar year to review a document and come back to town.”
“It took an entire year. So if I am skeptical about the development of a MOU after watching the way things operate, I am hoping to get somewhere on this.”
Councilman Tom Butterworth noted that although the Board of Ed may take up a draft policy, there’s no guarantee the elected body will adopt it.
Engel said that’s true, though the Town Council’s role in the matter is to get the school board and police “to engage on it and work on it between them.”
“We just want them to engage with each other,” he said.
Karl said Chris Hussey had pushed for allowing a drug-sniffing dog in NCHS years ago when she served on the Town Council.
More recently, the Police Department’s own push followed the observation made by a Town Councilman more than four years ago that several young people in town were dying of overdoses. After that, the K-9 dog Apollo searched NCHS as part of a training exercise prior to the start of school, and the following month, the Police Commission said that authorities should be able to conduct real searches.
A conversation opened between police and district officials, though the effort appeared to lose steam until the arrest in April 2018 of a New Canaan High School coach after authorities found him to be in possession of 20 bags of heroin. At that time, both police officials and residents, including Hussey, urged the district to allow the K-9 searches. Yet after Superintendent of Schools Dr. Bryan Luizzi described such a policy as “worthwhile” during a July 2018 meeting, the Board opted not to vote on the matter, saying it needed more information and time to reflect on what would follow the measure.
It isn’t clear what sort of restrictions the Board of Ed would push for in a policy.
During a debate last fall, one member of the Board of Education said the elected body would consider adopting a policy that would see drug-sniffing dogs allowed in public schools so long as students are not present during searches or criminalized as a result of them.