So-called “school sweeps” by police in Sudbury this week found small amounts of drugs or drug paraphernalia on about a dozen students at a number of high schools — but those sweeps didn't actually take place inside schools.

The days of police wandering the halls with sniffer dogs and rifling through random lockers are over.

Sudbury Police Chief Frank Elsner said his officers “school sweeps” this week actually happened on the edges of school property.

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“It's outside, not within the school itself,” he said.

“Our officers wouldn't just go in on a random basis to do the sweeps. Those do not occur any longer.”

Elsner said the landscape changed after a 2008 Supreme Court decision, which set stricter rules for when police can enter a school for a search.

Suspension, expulsion possible

None of the young people found with drugs this week were charged with a crime.

Instead, they were handed over to school officials.

The superintendent of schools for the Rainbow District School Board said students don't have to be at school to face sanctions for things such as drug possession.

“Within our code of conduct, we definitely have that ability to discipline a student even if they are not on school property,” Bruce Bourget said.

How each case is dealt with can vary, but punishments can include suspension and expulsion.

There is also an appeals process, should students disagree with their punishment.

Elsner said officers can use discretion when it comes to laying criminal charges.

“Everyone that was apprehended over the course of this particular investigation had small amounts of marijuana on them or paraphernalia,” he said. “So the last thing we want to do is to criminalize youth in our community like that.”