For Colchester Superintendent Larry Waters, safety comes first.
"It is my responsibility every single day to ensure the safety of all of our students," Waters said.
But ensuring that safety is getting increasingly difficult at Colchester High School. Waters says drugs continue to be a problem on campus with 21 reported incidents last year, and weapons at the high school are on the rise.
"What we've noted is that we have an increase in the number of weapons that come in with drugs. And by weapons, I would say that would be knives," Waters said.
Waters says districts across Vermont are facing similar problems, but admits his approach may be unique. The high school is already training teachers to look for signs of trouble and is now working with the Colchester Police Department to bring its drug-sniffing canine, Tazor, into the mix.
"You know the dog has some capabilities that people do not, that's the reality of their nose," said Colchester Police Cpl. Peter Hull, the school resource officer.
Hull says the halls of the high school will serve as a training ground for the K-9 team, but claims regularly scheduled searches are not in the works for now.
"It provides a safe place for the dog to train. It will also provide some data and feedback to the school district about different locations within their building," Hull said.
Hull admits taking on the drugs and weapons with this new approach will take work.
"You know, I think we have to balance our desire to keep this space as substance-free as possible with the rights of the people that use this space," Hull said.
Waters is leaving how the K-9 team can best be used to in these halls up to the police, but is taking the lead in pushing the message behind its presence.
"Let's be clear, there will never be an opportunity for tobacco, alcohol, or any other drugs to be a part of our school environment," Waters said.
The Colchester School district expels about six students a year for drug-related violations.
The district has notified parents and teachers about its intentions to use the dogs. A formal plan for the K-9 is expected within the next month.
The Education Department says a handful of Vermont school districts are considering similar programs.
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