By Megan Dooley
In discussing the possibility of a student assistant program coordinator, Principal Nathaniel Rouse explained at a Feb. 15, closed-campus forum that the functions are currently carried out by a number of different entities, including a specialist from Oak Park's Thrive Counseling Center. That person works at the high school five days a week. Through Thrive, the school provides on-site group therapy that spans a number of issues, genders, and racial groups.
Opinions ranged among parents and community members at the forum — from those who fondly remembered their own drug and alcohol counselors in high school, to those who noticed an area lacking at OPRF. And one woman suggested focusing more on prevention than counseling after the fact.
The question of bringing drug sniffing dogs into the school for random searches was presented by Janel Bishop, OPRF's assistant principal for student health and safety.
"We already have a board policy in place that would allow us to utilize this kind of search," she said, adding that the procedure is considered constitutional. "It would require a well thought-out set of procedures to be put in place before doing so."
According to Bishop, the school would also have to work out the logistics of conducting such a search. That would entail considering the size of the institution and the movement of students and staff throughout the day. She said the search would "certainly take all day."
But as with drug testing, Bishop said that the dogs would be used as a deterrent to discourage students from carrying drug and alcohol paraphernalia on campus. "The purpose is not to catch students with drugs at that time," she said.
Questions and comments from participants piled up during the drug-sniffing dog discussion.
One parent expressed concern that students would lose control themselves after functioning in such a closely-monitored environment. "They're going to go off to college where there's no control on anything," the parent said.
Another woman gave an example of a young woman for whom a structured high school environment helped forge a similarly structured path in college. "She was able to learn self-control in a safe environment," she said.
Others questioned the affordability of drug-detecting dogs — the canines would have to be brought in from other law enforcement departments because Oak Park police do not have a K9 unit.
As planned, the event prompted a continued discussion on the four individual issues, and expanded the number of voices involved in the debate.
"It's important to understand that we are not entering this discussion at a beginning point," said Rouse, who hopes to engage the community in order to "develop a road map for the work in our future."