In response to what they say is an alarming rise in drug use among teen-agers, Carroll education officials will for the first time allow the random use of drug-sniffing dogs in the county's high school hallways.
School administrators and Carroll State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes announced the shift in policy last night to more than 500 parents, teachers and students who turned out for a drug-use forum at North Carroll High School in Hampstead.
Mr. Barnes proposed allowing the dogs in schools more than a month ago to a group of concerned parents.
Drug-detecting dogs have been used sporadically on the parking lots of the county's high schools for the past 15 years, but school administrators had never granted blanket permission for their use in an attempt to detect drugs in students' lockers.
The main purpose of drug-detecting dogs is deterrence, Mr. Barnes said last night. "These will be random, unannounced searches," the prosecutor said. "We will be able to take a more proactive approach to seeking out drugs in our schools."
Peter B. McDowell, director of secondary schools, pointed to a marked increase in drug-related suspensions and disciplinary problems in the past two years.
"What you're seeing in the schools is a microcosm of what you're seeing in society," he said, noting that drug and alcohol-related suspensions increased from 54 in 1993 to 92 last year.
A recent statewide survey of public school students found that nearly 33 percent of all 12th-grade students had used marijuana and that nearly 28 percent of Carroll's seniors had used the drug.
The same survey found that 50 percent of seniors statewide reported having used some form of drugs that are neither alcohol or tobacco; the proportion in Carroll was about the same.
At its meeting next month, the Board of Education will officially change its drug policy to allow drug-sniffing dogs in the schools on a random basis
Drug-detecting dogs are not used widely in Maryland, and their use must adhere to legal and educational guidelines. School principals are permitted to search students' lockers if they have a reasonable suspicion of drugs, but police will be required to obtain search warrants to open a locker where a drug dog has reacted.
In fact, Mr. McDowell said, school principals conducted more than 700 searches last year in the county's middle and high schools.
Since 1987, the number of students who have been suspended for drug- or alcohol-related problems has fluctuated from 35 to slightly more than 90, county school officials say.
Many in the audience last night approved of the policy switch, including a North Carroll High School senior who said that the community's drug problems are the fault of parents, school officials, and, mostly, students like himself who don't turn in drug users.
"I'm not going to hide behind the fear of turning in drug-users anymore," said Ray Dubicki. "I want to ask the school to punish the students. Suspend them and keep them out until a urine test comes back clean. Bring on the dogs, search the lockers."