Recently I submitted a recommendation to the School Committee related to the addition of a breath alcohol testing protocol for the district. Given some of the incorrect or misleading comments that have appeared in the community in the past few days, I am taking this opportunity to provide accurate information and a rationale for my recommendation.
The district’s existing alcohol policy states: “In view of the fact that the use of alcohol can endanger the health and safety of the user, and recognizing the deleterious effect the use of alcoholic beverages can have on the maintenance of general order and discipline, the Dracut School Committee prohibits the use of, serving of, or consumption of any alcoholic beverage on school property or at any school function. Additionally, any student, regardless of age, who has been drinking alcoholic beverages prior to attendance at, or participation in, a school-sponsored activity, will be barred from that activity and subject to disciplinary action.”
The district takes seriously its efforts to keep our students safe. For many years school districts in Massachusetts have been utilizing breath alcohol testing as a tool for doing that very thing. In fact, many of our neighboring districts have had breath alcohol testing in place for over a decade. The use of this process has become ubiquitous in those communities. The administration has been considering the adoption of a breath alcohol process for some time. Those conversations most often occur when reviewing existing processes and considering what additional steps may be taken to increase our ability to keep students safe.
Our school community has taken steps to ensure that events like the prom are as safe as possible, and students accept these structures as a condition of attending. For example, students cannot drive themselves to the prom, but rather, must engage a private service of some type to get to and from the event. Students must agree to a cursory search of themselves and their possessions as a condition of entering the prom; and in exchange for the privilege of purchasing tickets, students agree to participate in an extended after-prom event, so as to ensure that they remain safe.
Even with all of those processes in place, it is an unfortunate reality that a small handful of students sometimes attempt to ingest or transport alcohol to events like the prom. The adoption of breath alcohol testing would be one more tool in the district’s efforts to keep students safe. The proposed protocol would include the following:
- Students and parents would be provided prior notice of the district’s intent to conduct breath alcohol testing.
- In exchange for the privilege of attending the prom (It is well established that participation in events like a prom is a privilege, not a right.), students and their guests would agree to undertake a breath alcohol test prior to entering the event.
- The process would occur as part of the existent practice of cursory searches of students and their belongings.
- The process would be conducted by school staff, directly overseen by the principal.
- The process of testing involves individuals exhaling four to six inches away from a device.
- The process is passive. This means that the device operates on a Pass/Fail system, designed to indicate the presence of alcohol. The device does not measure or register a blood alcohol level.
- If a test indicates the presence of alcohol, students may ask for additional tests to be given a few minutes apart.
- If the presence of alcohol is determined, a student would not be allowed to enter the event and the student’s parents would immediately be contacted and required to pick the student up at the event. The student would subsequently be subject to discipline as outlined in student handbooks.
- As stated above, students would be provided with advanced notice of the testing and as such, if they declined to be tested, they would not be allowed into the event. If this were to occur, the student’s parents would be contacted and would be required to pick their child up at the event.
- The administration would also have the ability to retest a student at a later time during the event should there be an indication that the student may have ingested alcohol.
The intent of adopting this process is passive deterrence. There is no intent to actively persecute students, but rather, to establish another process that will deter them from engaging in unsafe and unhealthy behaviors. As stated previously, this tool has been used in school districts for a number of years. In speaking with colleagues and parents in those communities, the most common comment was that the use of breath alcohol testing quickly became an unremarkable part of the processes utilized by school districts to ensure the safety of students. That is the intent of the Dracut Public Schools in this matter: safety.
I welcome an opportunity to discuss the administration’s recommendation to utilize this tool in our efforts to keep students safe. I encourage anyone with questions or concerns to call me directly at 957-2660.