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Chatham County Schools’ middle and high school students may soon be seeing gun-sniffing dogs at their schools.
At a mid-year retreat Monday, the Chatham County Board of Education tentatively gave district staff the go-ahead to further develop an official policy on procedures for firearm detection canines on school grounds for public events and during the day-to-day operations of schools.
“The goal of the K-9 exercise is to promote student and public safety and an orderly school environment,” the draft policy says, “by deterring possession of, as well as identifying and confiscating, firearms in schools and on school property.”
The policy allows for schools to be randomly chosen, but not more than twice a month, for the K-9 exercise.
During the exercise, students will be directed upon arrival to a single entrance. The detection dog will be located just inside that entrance approximately 3-5 feet from the students.
If the dog alerts its handler – a trained law enforcement officer typically from the Chatham County Sheriff’s Department – the student may be approached by school administrators for further inquiry, possibly a search.
During that same day, while students are in class, school administrators would randomly select hallways of lockers and rows of cars to be scanned by the detection dog. Students will be kept in the classroom during those scans.
During exercises at public events, such as sports games, the detection dogs will be stationed 3-5 feet from the admission line to the event. If the dog is alerted to a specific individual, an inquiry and possible search will be conducted by a school administrator.
In both the normal school day and public event exercises, dogs will not be allowed to approach students or other individuals.
Chatham Schools Superintendent Derrick Jordan said the program would be implemented
at no cost to the district and is part of the system’s efforts to “continue ensuring that our schools are as safe as they can be.”
Chatham County Sheriff Mike Roberson said a former deputy who now trains gun-sniffing dogs for schools across the country came to the sheriff’s office with the idea. He said the dogs are alerted by the smell of gunpowder and oils and chemicals used to clean firearms.
“They are passive alert, which means when they smell it, they sit down,” Roberson said. “I think it’s a way that we can make people feel better about the security of what’s going on. It’s just another tool we have in our tool belt.”
The district and the department would jointly determine the date and location of the exercises. School board members roundly approved the idea of using the scans in the schools. Board member David Hamm encouraged including elementary schools in the exercises.
“Yes, a kindergartner can bring a loaded firearm in,” he said.
Jordan said district administration would continue having conversations with the sheriff’s department about the policy, but noted authorization has already been given for the dogs at events.
He added that attorneys had assured the district that there were no federal violations in the policy.
“We believe that these proposed regulations get to the heart of helping us to navigate those waters,” Jordan said. “Because this is a new initiative, it is a pilot, and we were unsure whether we wanted to stick to public events or expand it to during the day, we thought it important to bring these, allow conversation that needed to be had, and get some consensus around whether we should make this applicable to only one cat- egory or both categories.”
There was no timetable given on when the dogs would begin appearing at public events or when a final vote would be taken on the policy. Roberson said the dog is ready to go, and if the pilot program shows that it works, the canine would join the force full-time.