Administration considers breathalyzer policy before events

February 25, 2013

Articles, Features, Photos, Videos

Student alcohol use puts future dances at risk

Bree Nelson
Sandscript Features Editor 
Micheala Sosby
Sandscript Features Editor
Katelynn Williams
Sandscript Features Writer

Breathalyzers aren’t just for the roads anymore.

In the past five years, they have become a prime weapon for combating teen drinking in public schools. Nationwide, they have made appearances at high school functions like football games and dances.

Underage drinking increasing local problem

Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) estimates that seventy-two percent of students have consumed alcohol before the end of high school, and the underage drinking evidenced at this past homecoming dance strongly suggests that the Duneland community is not immune to such student behavior.

“In general, people at the last dance were testing the limits to see what they can get away with,” Cpl. Joe Kantowski of the Chesterton Police Department said.  “Alcohol is forbidden for people under twenty-one, so high-schoolers want to experiment with it.”

Many teachers and students have seen underage drinking surface first-hand at school dances.

“I would say,” math teacher Jordan Bennett said, “I was unaware of the [teen drinking situation in Duneland] until I chaperoned the last dance and saw how many students came in under the influence.”

“I am appalled, surprised mostly,” math teacher Eileen Haggerty added.  “Teenagers have been drinking since I was a kid, but they are bold, and they are naïve to think [teachers] would not notice.”

“I feel like underage drinking is getting worse,” Margaret Shinn concluded.  “More kids are doing it, and there’s really no way to regulate it.”

Due to alcohol use and student behavior at the last homecoming, future events like the Prom and homecoming dances are currently at risk of becoming a thing of the past, according to principal Jim Goetz.

“I would be more willing to take the heat for cancelling dances,” he said, “than I am willing to take the risk of letting a student drink and drive and get into an accident.  If it is determined that [cancelling events] is the safest and best way to go, then it is a possibility.”

Many students are upset about the possibility of dances being cancelled if alcohol use and offending student behaviors continue.

“I am upset to see Proms and dances at risk of cancellation,” Marissa Ciesielski said, “because only some people are drinking, but many aren’t.  It isn’t fair to the students that were not drinking.  It should be the ones that were drinking that get punished.”

Sandscript feature editor Micheala Sosby is breathalyzed during a demonstration provided b Cpl. Joe Kantowski. Sosby had to blow into a straw attached to the device which provides a measure of the alcohol content in the person. The entire process took about 10 seconds. Sandscript photo by Suzanne Williams.

Sandscript feature editor Micheala Sosby is breathalyzed during a demonstration provided by Cpl. Joe Kantowski.  Sosby had to blow into a straw attached to the device which provides a measure of the alcohol content in the person.  The entire process took about 10 seconds. Sandscript photo by Suzanne Williams

Indiana high schools install breathalyzer policies

School administrations across the country are, in fact, trying to regulate underage drinking among students at school functions.  Several Indiana high schools have joined the ranks of U.S. public schools that breathalyze their students before school activities, especially before proms and homecoming dances.

High schools in Carmel, St. John, and Whiting have installed breathalyzer policies to try to stay ahead of the underage drinking game.  In fact, Carmel High School has been breathalyzing students before dances for so long that administrator Joe Shaler cannot recall when the policy was first implemented.

“We have been breathalyzing students for several years,” Shaler said.  “It’s never been about catching a lot of kids.  It’s been a deterrent.  Kids know that they will be breathalyzed before coming in.  We aren’t trying to trick or surprise them, they know it’s going to be there.”

Likewise, the administration at Whiting High School considers its breathalyzer policy to be a preventative measure.  Whiting has enforced a breathalyzer presence before school dances for five years, and principal Jay Harker believes it has become “very routine to the students.”

“I believe our students actually like the breathalyzer policy,” Harker added, “because there are no outside pressures to do anything they shouldn’t be [doing].  Some people were resistant to it, but I’ve heard more positives about it than negatives in recent years.”

In light of recent out-of-control events at the Winter Homecoming dance, there is talk among school administrators, faculty, and students about the implementation of a breathalyzer policy here.

“I think that if the school said there were going to be breathalyzers [before school dances], fewer people would drink,” Sarah Bobby said.  “I think it would be a good idea.”

“I don’t oppose [a breathalyzer policy],” English teacher Doug Uehling added. “Students will want to complain about it, but once they go out on the road after the dance, they’re affecting other people.  We have to protect not just students, but the community as well.”

Legal concerns of a breathalyzer policy

Though breathalyzing has become a more common addition to high school policies, legal problems may result from careless attempts at enforcement.  The faulty enforcement of a breathalyzer policy could result in complaints of a violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unjust searches and seizures of people and their property.

“I look at breathalyzer policies from a law enforcement perspective,” Kantowski said.  “I don’t like to see people wrongfully looked into.  As a parent, though, I would have no problem with the school breathalyzing my kid before a school function.”

School administrations are able to search students with fewer legal restrictions than are law enforcement officers, Kantowski adds, because when parents sign their children up for school, they agree to allow their children to be searched by the administration.  For that reason, he recommends that school administrators and teachers operate the breathalyzers, not the local police force.

“The courts have historically been pretty open to breath tests and that sort of thing to keep a school or school events safe,” director of school safety and security Stephen Rohe concluded.  “Based on past rulings, if [CHS] were to breath-test everybody, or only people with reasonable suspicion, we’d be fine as far as any Fourth Amendment rights.”

Many schools, such as Whiting, print a notification on dance tickets which states that breathalyzers will be present at the dance.  This notification on the dance ticket serves as a “fair warning” to students before they enter the dance under the influence, and thus helps to protect the constitutionality of the policy.  Still, some students believe they would feel uncomfortable if they had to submit to a breathalyzer test to enter dances.

“I wouldn’t be dissuaded from going to dances,” Lily Jablonski said, “but I would feel uncomfortable.”

Possible effects of a breathalyzer policy

A breathalyzer policy could hold several implications for students and the administration.  Some students fear that dance turnout would suffer.

“I think it would be a good idea [to have breathalyzers at the dances],” Rosie Biehl said, “but I don’t think as many people would go to the dances.”

“I think it would be kind of ridiculous,” Ben Morris countered, “to have to go through a [breathalyzer before a dance].  I would definitely be dissuaded from going.  Even if you don’t drink, it’s ridiculous.”

A breathalyzer policy could prevent students from entering dances under the influence.  However, there is some concern that other unintended side effects will arise.

“We have been in discussion with Lake Central and other schools that breathalyze,” Goetz said.  “Our worry is that if we shut off one avenue, students will find another.  We are trying to come up with solutions that fix all problems, not just some.”

“Kids might say, ‘Well, we’re going to stay at home and party,’” Kantowski added.  “We all want to be safe in what we do, and regardless of what the high school decides, [the police force] will back up the decision one hundred percent.”

“I don’t think breathalyzers would be very successful,” Anna Mahoney concluded, “because people might just drink anyway and go, and they probably won’t catch everyone.  But people really shouldn’t drink before dances because it’s going to ruin it for everyone else.”

While breathalyzer policy in high schools is a controversial topic, it is a move being considered by the school administration here to counter teen alcohol consumption before and during school functions. With local schools implementing such policies, the Duneland administration may follow suit in taking similar action.


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