By Ken Trainor
Imagine this: Drug-sniffing dogs greeting your children when they arrive at Oak Park and River Forest High School, conducting locker searches on a random but regular basis. Even if you don't have children at the high school, you're still supporting that institution with your taxes. Is this the environment you want to create for our kids?
Welcome to your internment camp, have a nice day. Teens already tend toward alienation. With all due respect to parents who have real concerns about kids using drugs, this is nuts. This is not the way to address the issue.
What's even harder to figure is the absence of outcry this proposal has generated. Isn't anybody in the adult community going to stand up and take a stand against it?
Kids doing drugs is a legitimate concern. And there are legitimate ways to address that concern. Drug-sniffing dogs is not one of them.
OPRF is currently holding public forums, looking for feedback from community members. Closing the campus has been proposed. Drug testing has been proposed. All ideas are worth discussing. But once you put those ideas out there, it should quickly become apparent which ones are excessive and extreme. Drug-sniffing dogs go beyond the pale. If that's what we've come to, the cause is already lost.
I have no doubt some kids are doing drugs — mostly before or after school, but let's say some are bringing them into school, to sell or to use. Ten percent of the student population? Twenty percent? Even if the number were that high, that means 80 percent of students who don't do drugs, at least not during school, could be subjected to humiliating searches.
Extreme measures require compelling evidence — hard numbers. The bar needs to be set high before resorting to drug-sniffing canines. I haven't heard the kind of evidence that warrants such measures. The high school believes a K9 crackdown would pass a constitutional test. Not good enough in my opinion. It has to be enthusiastically embraced by a majority of the community — adults and students.
Maybe it's all symbolic. We're so serious about this issue, we're willing to do something as nutty as having dogs sniff out contraband in your lockers or coat pockets. Don't take it personally. If you're not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about. Unless, of course, the dog gets it wrong. Mind if we pat you down?
Hell, we don't even have to go through that at the airport. Just guessing here, but this might have a negative effect on overall student morale.
There are other, better ways to let kids know we're serious about drug use. And we should be serious about it. But we can find creative, constructive ways to send that message. Modeling would help. Parents, teachers and administrators should all be talking in public about their own experiences growing up. OPRF's roster of famous Tradition of Excellence winners might be willing to submit video testimonials. If they once experimented, why did they stop? What cautionary tales can they tell about casualties in their generation? How about parents coming forward to admit their own drug use and promising to stop?
Maybe one of the things driving kids to drugs is not being treated with sufficient respect. Kids need to be inspired to resist drugs, not just threatened with consequences. They need a positive, stimulating environment that gives them reasons to resist. The more their high school environment resembles a prison, the more they'll be tempted to tune out.
If we can't make a strong case for staying sober, how can we expect them to buy in?
In the meantime, it worries me that not enough adults are speaking out strongly against this draconian notion. Maybe no one wants to be the first to say something.
OK, I'll start the conversation: Substance abuse, especially by kids, can ruin lives. We need to send a clear, consistent message about this — in our words and deeds. But measures that strip teens of their dignity should be used as a last resort, only when there is overwhelming evidence. Drug-sniffing dogs send an anti-drug message, but they also send an anti-kid message, not to mention the message that we lack a commitment to personal dignity.
We have a right to expect more from our kids.
And they have a right to expect more from us.