PALMDALE – The Guidance Charter School held a press conference Wednesday morning to introduce the community to its newest full-time staff member, Rita.
The two-year-old German Shepard will provide an added level of security at the school’s 7-12 campus of about 300 students. When school starts on August 12, Rita will be sniffing the east Palmdale campus for drugs and weapons to identify and deter any possible attacks, said Executive Director Kamal Al-Khatib.
“I want the public to know that this school is going to be the safest school in the nation,” Al-Khatib said, adding that The Guidance Charter School is the first charter school in the nation to purchase its own K-9 unit.
Al-Khatib said a K-9 unit on campus is the school’s response to the increase in violent incidents on school and university campuses across the nation. He said he began pursuing the idea in earnest after a seventh grader was accused of using and bringing marijuana onto the school’s campus.
When school officials searched the student’s classroom and could not find any evidence of drugs, Al-Khatib said he turned to the sheriff’s department’s K-9 unit. He discovered that the process required a lead time of up to three weeks and cost around $150 an hour.
“I said, ‘You know what? I’m going to get my own unit,” Al-Khatib said.
The school was able to secure a grant from its insurance company to fund the new K-9 school safety initiative, Al-Khatib said. Rita came from Adlerhorst International, Inc., a police K-9 training camp in Riverside County; the dog has been in training for six weeks, Al-Khatib said.
“The dog itself cost us $10,400, but the program, so far, cost us $25,000,” Al-Khatib said.
When school starts, Rita will be reporting to work every school day like the rest of the staff. In the mornings, she’ll be stationed in a car out front, right where the students are dropped off, as a “sign of security,” Al-Khatib said.
He stressed that the dog is not aggressive and does not present a threat to students or staff. The dog will only search in areas where no students are present, Al-Khatib added.
Rita demonstrated her expertise at Wednesday’s press conference. The dog was able to quickly locate MDMA, marijuana, cocaine and heroin packages, which were placed in the bushes by her handlers.
The new K-9 unit will deter possible criminal activity at The Guidance Charter School, according to Palmdale Sheriff’s Station Captain Don Ford.
“Just the fact that they know that the dog is there will deter a lot of people from bringing in any [drugs and weapons] on the campus,” Ford said. “That’s what we want for the kids here, is to be able to come here and feel safe.”
“It’s going to send a very powerful message, to all who choose to come to this campus, that there is a zero tolerance policy that’s not only spoken but enforced,” said Palmdale City Councilmember Tom Lackey.
California State Assemblyman Steve Fox said the new K-9 unit will improve the education process, as well.
“The teachers can’t teach and the students can’t learn unless they feel safe,” Fox said. “By Kamal bringing on this K-9 unit, this makes this one of the safest places, which means one of the best education processes in the state will take place right here.”
The Guidance Charter School’s K-9 unit will be available to conduct drugs and weapons searches at other schools and outside agencies at a billable rate of $100 per hour, with a three-hour minimum, Al-Khatib said.
For more information on this new initiative, contact The Guidance Charter School at 661-285-1600.