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In the coming weeks, Madison police dogs will be able to sniff through the halls, bathrooms and parking lots of the city’s middle and high schools if school principals suspect there may be illegal drugs there.

The School Board voted 5-1 Monday to allow the sweeps, which school officials say will help eliminate drug use and trafficking in schools and decrease violence. Annual evaluations will be conducted to assess the program’s effectiveness.

Supporters, including Madison Police Chief Noble Wray, said it could be an effective and color-blind tool as part of a strategy to keep schools safe. The dogs would search for marijuana, heroin and cocaine.

Luis Yudice, coordinator of safety and security for the school district, said one statistic that led officials to consider these searches was the 60 percent increase in student code-of-conduct violations since 2007 occurring because of drugs.

The dogs will not search people. Searches will be done if a principal suspects drug activity at the school.

The police department will cover the costs of the searches, which will be done when students are in class.

Opponents said dogs can miss the presence of drugs or give false alerts. Low-income children whose parents may not have access to lawyers were also a concern.

“Schools have already become a prison with locked doors and cameras,” and dogs won’t help create a caring, nurturing environment, said Erin Proctor, who works at Jefferson Middle School.

A majority of more than 2,000 stakeholders surveyed between July 1 and Sept. 21 supported the proposal, according to a report to the board from superintendent Dan Nerad. Nerad said officials will need to notify students and said he didn’t know how long until the policy would be in effect.

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