The Martha's Vineyard Regional High School district committee was on the receiving end of some tough questions on Monday night - all of them centered on drugs at the high school.

What would happen if a police dog found drugs in a student's locker? Would it automatically become a police matter?  What if one student put drugs in another student's locker - or in a teacher's things? And what about student rights?

The school committee is considering a new policy that would allow the regional high school principal to use state police dogs to search school buildings and parking lots for drugs. The proposed policy has stirred a debate in the school as well as the community.

Before voting on the policy, which it plans to do in the coming weeks, the high school committee invited members of the public to voice their opinions at the Monday night meeting. State police Lieut. Robert Moore also attended the session. Turnout was slim, but the views were wide-ranging.

"I think our goal is to say to the larger community that we are doing everything we can to keep our school environment drug free," said Vineyard schools superintendent Dr. James H. Weiss.

Mr. Weiss and principal Margaret (Peg) Regan have said that canine searches are the most effective way to get drugs out of the school.

Mrs. Regan has said that if the policy is adopted, she will give students two or three weeks' notice of the first drug search and the assurance that more searches will follow. The plan, Mrs. Regan said, will not stop students from doing drugs, but it will ensure that drugs are not in school.

"We're not looking to arrest anybody - we're looking to have a drug-free zone at our school," Mrs. Regan said. "My goal is to have no drugs in the school when the dogs come."

She also said: "We do have drugs here. If you want them, you can get them." Mrs. Regan said she sees cars driven by people in their early 20s, idling on the periphery of campus at the end of the school day.

"They're here to sell drugs," she said. "So we call the police and put no trespassing orders on them."

According to police, the regional high school is the epicenter of drug activity during the off-season on the Vineyard, Mrs. Regan said. She said students have told her it is easy to procure drugs at school.

Oak Bluffs school committee member David Morris, who grew up on the Island, recalled that drugs and alcohol have always had a strong presence at the school.

"I can't think of a reason why we wouldn't make it harder to bring drugs in school," Mr. Morris said.  "You've got to be one step ahead of them and make it harder."

A 2005 survey of Island high school students showed that over half the students had smoked marijuana - higher than the number who had smoked cigarettes - and roughly 40 per cent had smoked marijuana in the last 30 days.

"Perhaps a lot of us adults are in denial," committee member Leslie Baynes of Edgartown said. "As a society, on the Vineyard, we're infested with drugs and I don't know what the answer is."

Some argued that drug dogs are the wrong approach to solving the problem.

"I'm not for search and seizure - I think it's a real invasion of personal rights," committee member Roxanne Ackerman of Aquinnah said. "I think it's the wrong message to send our kids."

Former Oak Bluffs school committee member Timothy Dobel agreed.

"I am appalled by what is going on in the area of civil liberties in our country right now," Mr. Dobel said. "Do we really really have to bring dogs in our schools?"

Three regional high school students also expressed views at the discussion on Monday.

"A majority would be against it," said junior Ben Williams, who attends the high school committee meetings with fellow junior Rachel Schubert to give student reports. "I've heard it from many students and many teachers that it isn't necessary."

Student body president Marguerite Cogliano said that although that may be the popular view at school, the searches are in students' best interest.

"There obviously are drugs at our school and I don't think high school is the place for drugs," Ms. Cogliano said. She said many students appear confused about the proposed policy and the administration's goals.

Mr. Weiss said that in the last school system he worked in, there were virtually no drug finds; he said canine searches seemed to rid the school of illegal substances.

Three to five students are caught each year for drug-related offenses at the regional high school, assistant principal Stephen Nixon said.

"But are we going to treat the entire school like criminals for those three to five kids?" asked committee member Judy O'Donoghue of Oak Bluffs. She suggested the school use preventative programs instead.

Mrs. Regan responded that the students who are caught are never the dealers. "They are the small fries," she said, adding: "I do see our students as victims of much larger dealers."

Committee member John Bacheller of Tisbury said preventative programs have been around for years, but drugs still have a presence at the high school.

"What is the alternative that's actually going to work?" he asked.

Ms. Schubert said discussion about the drug dogs have proved to be a distraction in school, but assistant principal Anne Lemenager said she is happy with the debate the issue has generated among students and in classrooms.