COVINGTON, Ga. - Enhancing the safety and security of schools is a primary goal of the Newton County School System and the Newton County Board of Education voted to add some furry — and friendly — officers to the school district’s safety team when they approved a contract for canine detection services from Interquest Detection Canines of Atlanta, Georgia on Tuesday, Jan. 22.
“This is a joint effort by the Newton County School System, the Newton County Sheriff’s Office, and the District Attorney’s Office,”NCSS Superintendent Samantha Fuhrey said. “Our goal is to provide a safe learning environment that is free of alcohol, drugs and firearms. The dogs will be used in our secondary schools—middle and high schools—to help prevent and deter students from bringing these items onto our campuses. The dogs will make approximately 25 unannounced visits to our middle and high schools throughout the remainder of the second semester.”
Interquest Detection Canines of Georgia is a leader in the field of contraband detection and drug dog services. Their dogs are trained to detect illegal drugs, medications, alcohol and firearms. According to Ashley Marratt, president of Interquest Detection Canines, the company’s dogs are breeds that are friendly and well behaved and pose no threat or risk to students or staff. Two dogs, Jerry Springer, a springer spaniel, and Bentley, a black Labrador, will be the primary dogs visiting Newton County’s secondary schools this semester. A third dog, whose breed is to be determined, will also be added to the team.
“Our dogs have wonderful personalities and will pose no threat to the students,” Marratt said. “Bentley is sweet and goofy and loves to jump and bounce. He will be the dog used to search the schools while Jerry Springer, our loveable springer spaniel, is the dog students and parents will see during presentations and special events.”
But don’t let their cuteness fool you. The dogs have a job to do and each has been trained to sniff out alcohol, drugs, gun powder and even over-the-counter medications including caffeine and ephedrine as well as prescription drugs. Paired with a trained handler, the duo will visit schools unannounced to provide detection and more importantly, deterrent services.
“A trained, certified handler will accompany each animal throughout the inspections,” Marratt said. “No lockdowns are required and we do not interrupt the academic schedule to conduct the searches.
“They are not something to be frightened of. In fact, we let the students know that they are something to help keep them safe. Through the educational piece, the students will learn that the dogs represent a reason for them to say ‘no’ if someone asks them to carry drugs or weapons at the school. The potential for a dog search gives them an out—a way to say ‘no.’”
“I met with the secondary principals to get their input on this program and they were all supportive of the idea of more frequent canine searches,” Fuhrey said. “This isn’t a situation where we are trying to ‘catch’ students doing something wrong by bringing dangerous items on campus. Instead, we are trying to deter them from doing it in the first place. As a result, there will be a major educational component to this program. Before the canine searches ever start, students and their parents will be invited to attend a meeting where representatives from Interquest will explain the program and introduce the dogs. It is our goal that multiple, unannounced canine searches will be enough of a deterrent to the students to keep them from bringing drugs and weapons on campus. As always, however, any students found to be in possession of drugs or weapons will face both legal charges and disciplinary action.
“The safety of our schools is our number one priority and this is one more way we can help make our schools safe for students and staff. I encourage any parents of middle or high school students who have questions about this new initiative to attend their school’s meeting once the date is announced.