Drug dog sweeps school

MILFORD – Police and five drug-sniffing dogs went through Milford High School Monday morning. It was apparently the first such search in the school’s history.

Students and staff were evacuated from the building around 9:30 a.m., waited in the football field, and returned about 40 minutes later.

Police and dogs went through the entire building, “searching spaces used and occupied by students,” said schools Superintendent Jessica Huizenga by phone later that morning.

The superintendent said the dogs did not signal that they noticed any evidence of drugs in classrooms or in lockers, but she declined to say if drugs were found elsewhere in the school.

“Some schools choose to release the findings of searches, and others do not,” she said in an email. “We followed the same protocol that every other school district and police department in the state follows regarding canine sweeps.”

A student survey, she said, showed a high percentage of Milford High School students reported seeing drugs or vaping products in the school. The previous school board had approved the search plan, she said, and the new board, sworn in in March, also approved it.

“Protecting teenagers at this important time in their lives” is a priority, she said. Students are told in their high school handbook about the possibility of a search.

Milford Police Capt. Shawn Pelletier said he and Huizenga meet regularly and they had planned the search over a few weeks. Police “would not go into the school unless they wanted us,” he said.

Milford has a K9 team, Michael Barritt and his shepherd, Barry. They were joined Monday by teams from Belmont, Rochester and Bristol, New Hampshire and from Wells, Maine.

“Pretty much every high school has drugs,” Pelletier said. “Every once in awhile a canine search is beneficial.”

A statement released by Huizenga and Milford Police Chief Michael Viola Monday morning mentions a growing concern about drug use and vaping, and says “we hope this will be an additional deterrent to students bringing illegal drugs, alcohol and smoking and vaping products to school.”

Capt. Pelletier, however, said the dogs did not search for cigarettes or alcohol, only controlled drugs, although vaping devices might be noticed by the dogs if they contained some kind of opioid.

The statement also said if drugs are found the situation would be handled through the school’s discipline policy unless it rose to the level that need to be handled by police.

“We are partnering with leaders, community members and specialists to education our students on the dangers associated with this behavior,” it said. “Our collective goal (is to) do our best to try to prevent these things from happening in our schools and use every tool we have to stop it.”

Huizenga said she expects drug searches to become a routine practice in fighting the opioid epidemic.

Kathy Cleveland may be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.