For most students, it’s a mere inconvenience when campus supervisors bar them from going to their cars. But there is something unmistakably serious about on-campus car searches—just as the K-9 units that carry them out are a far cry from McGruff the Crime Dog.
As The Californian and KSBW reported, on March 13, California Department of Justice STING agents worked with the Salinas Police Department and Monterey County Sheriff’s Office to search Carmel High for illegal substances. The investigation, a subset of California’s “Operation Safe Schools,” continued later that day, when DOJ agents inspected two locations in Carmel Valley. Another K-9 search followed shortly afterward on March 25.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, warrantless searches of property on campus are constitutional so long as the investigator has “reasonable suspicion,” a precedent set by New Jersey v. T.L.O. in 1985, when the search of a student’s purse was justified by the fact that she had previously been caught smoking.
This point is hammered home by a sign posted on chain-link fencing in the parking lot, which warns students of Board Policy 5145.12—that is, that “students cannot learn, nor staff work or teach, on a campus where the presence of such harmful items impedes the educational process,” and that “the California Constitution provides that all students and staffs of public schools have the inalienable right to attend campuses which are safe, secure, and peaceful.”
Thus, the policy continues, “the principal or administrative designee may search students and their personal belongings (including, but not limited to, backpacks and purses) without their consent if there exists reasonable suspicion that the student(s) to be searched are violating or have violated a District or school rule or regulation, or the law.”
In an interview, Principal Rick Lopez took the time to dispel some of the grandiose rumors surrounding the March 13 investigation: “There were no arrests made, and there was just one dog,” he affirms.
Lopez also clarified the extent of the CHS administration’s involvement in the investigation—that is to say there was none at all. “All I can say is that the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office arrived on campus with a warrant,” Lopez says.
Yet there is still some degree of controversy among the student body. While writing this article, I spoke to several students, some of whom had been investigated and detained on March 13.
“Going here, you can see that weed isn’t really the problem. It’s pills and alcohol,” one student remarked. While their first comment is debatable—seeing as the 2013 California Healthy Kids survey states that 36 percent of juniors reported using marijuana within 30 days of taking the questionnaire—the general sentiment isn’t.
In 2013, Sandpiper reporter Carly Rudiger reported that local paraphernalia shops (such as NorCal) would sell hookah pens and e-cigs without checking for ID, while 2014 grad Elexis Perez investigated students’ comments that nitrous oxide had “become one of the normal party drugs in the Carmel and Monterey area.” Earlier this year, staff writer Lennie Rodriguez penned an article on the prevalence of Xanax, Adderall and other “study drugs”— just as 2013 grad Josh Marcus had two years earlier.
Some students I spoke with opined that Carmel-by-the-Sea’s relative prosperity, with a median family income of $98,889 according to the U.S. Census 2011 American Community Survey, contributes to the frequency of substance abuse. Others joked that the use of illegal drugs was simply something to do in a town better known for its golf and car shows than its youth pastimes.
But regardless of where the root of Carmel’s drug problem lies, both the CHS administration and local officials are making sure to address the issue—and the misconceptions surrounding it.
“There are certainly some students here who make poor decisions,” Lopez asserts. “But that’s absolutely a minority…almost all of our students do the right thing.“
“Still, we’re not sticking our heads in the sand,” he continues.
And so, as long as Carmel High students are putting themselves and their classmates at risk, they will continue to be subject to searches.
Adam Agenbroad / April 27, 2015
Now a senior at Carmel high school I can say with confidence that our school does have a problem with drugs. Through out my high school career I can brag that I have never been apart of the problem. Every week, however, I hear people talking openly and quite loudly about the party they attended that weekend and what drugs they did. Our high school has a problem that seems will never go away.
Vanessa Gonzalez / April 27, 2015
This article doesn’t really surprise me. Carmel High has always been known for being a pot head school, and it’s most likely going to continue being that way. They should definitely continue doing searches more often.
Haley Gomez / April 27, 2015
I’m not super surprised about the issues about drugs on campus. Weed is definitely prevalent in the community, but I’m still surprised about the use of “study drugs” for tests and the ACT/SAT. Hearing about the drugs kids do at school is a bizarre thing to hear, especially at a place where we’re supposed to be learning.
Connor Marden / April 27, 2015
It’s nothing new to hear about drug problems at Carmel. It’s been the same for years, but it seems like the school is starting to really take the problem into its own hands by searching students so often. Prior to this year I only remember a few instances where the drug dogs came, but this year it seems they are on campus way more often.
Morgane Cheysson / April 27, 2015
I believe there is a drug problem, and I have heard people talking about it all the time. I think it is a good thing that they do searches, and they should definitely continue to.
Rebekah Lamb / April 27, 2015
Carmel is notorious for the use of drugs. The amount of times I have seen our school on the local news channels is kind of embarrassing. If you’re going to do drugs, why bring them to school? It doesn’t make much sense. With the amount of searches that are being conducted, maybe students will eventually learn to not bring drugs on campus.
Gabrielle Garza / April 27, 2015
I feel like whoever said pills are used more often than weed has it backwards. Pills are definitely not more of an issue at Carmel High than weed. Also, I’ve never even heard of nitrous oxide being at a party much less seen anyone use it. In my opinion weed and alcohol seem to be the main illegal substances used by high schoolers.
Hailey Everett / April 27, 2015
I agree that pot is somewhat of an issue among some groups of kids at Carmel, but most Carmel’s students are nothing close to heavy drug users. Most kids take AP classes, get good grades, and are participating members of the school and community. Pot may be of use, but the kids that attend this school are motivated and successful students and overall people. I also disagree with Elexis Perez, for I have never been at a Carmel High School party where nitrous oxide was being used. I don’t even think I’ve heard kids talking about using nitrous oxide. I do think that the drug dog searches are great because they help with the pot issue and they keep the high school clean. I think the searches should be continued in that way.
Robert Chambers / April 28, 2015
It is apparent that the use of illicit substances are a common occurrence throughout the student body of the Carmel High School; However, abuse is hardly the appropriate description.
According to Google, drug abuse is defined as “the habitual taking of illegal or addictive drugs.” I personally believe the vast majority of drug aficionados and connoisseurs on the CHS campus do not make a habit, nor do they abuse their wallets, bodies, and lives as far as to label drug connoisseurs as “Abusers.”
Kaylee Meyer / April 28, 2015
Although the use of drugs is prominent at any school, I think students really just need to learn how to not bring that side of their life to school. But, I think that unless the school suspects that kids are doing the drugs on campus, it really isn’t their issue to deal with. Closing down the parking lot and bringing the drug dogs on campus only aggravates the students and just diminishes the feeling of privacy on school grounds.
Robin Myers / April 28, 2015
I feel like weed and alcohol are the two most used substances. The pills and nitrous oxide don’t seem as popular. I also think that Carmel High has had problems with drugs and drinking for years and years. It may be true that Carmel has dangerous drugs, due to a more affluent student body, but I still think that weed and alcohol are the most popular. With all of this being said, I feel like the drug dogs come way more often than they did last year.