By Amaris Castillo
DRACUT -- The School Committee last week discussed a proposed policy centered on alcohol use by students that would include breath-alcohol testing.
Superintendent of Schools Steven Stone recommended the adoption of a breath-alcohol testing procedure and protocol, which would allow an administrator to use a breath-alcohol testing device indicating the presence or absence of alcohol in a student if the administrator reasonably suspects a student is under the influence of alcohol.
"This is a passive test, not an active test," Stone stressed after completing the policy's first reading. "This is not the test you would take if you were pulled over by a police officer, where you would blow into a device and it would give you a particular reading, a blood-alcohol reading."
According to Stone, students would be asked to exhale about 4-6 inches away from the handheld device, and the device would instantly read either a positive or negative for alcohol. The devices would be purchased by the district at about $700 each. The recommendation is to purchase four devices.
Stone told committee members he has had conversations with other district officials and that the policy is mirrored in many school systems. He said he has spoken to school and law-enforcement officials who are all in support of its adoption.
Consumption of alcohol on school property is already prohibited, and Stone hopes the testing would be a deterrent for students. The superintendent said it's not about trying to interfere with students' rights, but rather a safety measure.
According to the proposed policy language, if a student tests positive for alcohol, he can request two additional tests taken at least two minutes apart.
If the additional tests are positive:
n Parents or guardians are notified and requested to take the student home.
n If the student is assessed to be a risk and in need of medical assistance, emergency help and parents/ guardians are notified.
n Disciplinary action will be taken as indicated in student handbooks.
n If the test is negative, the student will be allowed to resume school activity if the administrator does not suspect the use of other drugs.
If a student suspected to be under the influence of alcohol refuses to be tested, administrators will notify parents or guardians to pick up the student and will detain him until the parent's arrival. They will also consider the refusal "as comparable to being under the influence."
School Committee member Sabrina Heisey said she had a problem with the latter.
"I think that puts us in a conundrum where the student could not be drinking but feels that it is a violation of their personal rights" and "I think that that's not an admission of guilt," said Heisey, adding that she thinks a student should be able to refuse testing without it being punitive.
School Committee Chairman Joe Wilkie suggested that parents be contacted as soon as possible should their child be suspected of alcohol use. Stone assured Wilkie that communication to parents is instantaneous.
According to the policy language, the Dracut School Department also reserves the right to randomly screen a student or screen all students at school-related events (including prom) with proper notice to students and their families.
The new policy will have its second reading at the next School Committee meeting, at which time the committee will vote to adopt it or not.
Follow Amaris Castillo on Twitter @AmarisCastillo. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.