Belmont school officials are considering using breathalyzers at high school dances to deter alcohol abuse by students, according to Interim Superintendent Thomas Kingston.
“There have been problems in the past, as in most suburbs – students who binge in the parking lot and come in looking perfectly normal, but half an hour later, blotto,” said Kingston. “We even had one incident where a student threw up on the shoes of the principal’s wife.”
The high school’s next dance, said Kingston, is scheduled for Feb. 9 – but the district will not rush into implementing the breathalyzer policy, which he said is still in a nascent stage.
Officials are working with the Belmont Police Department and the Middlesex District Attorney’s office to work out details. The School Committee will have the final vote on whether the policy passes.
“I’m not holding to a particular schedule,” Kingston said. “It depends on how confident we are that it is appropriate, and whether civil liberties are protected, and we’ve exercised due diligence.”
Alcohol, said Kingston, is the drug of choice for Belmont teens, and the district’s youth risk survey showed that it is a “considerable issue.”
Currently, said Kingston, when there is a dance at the high school, school officials survey the parking lot to try to make sure students aren’t drinking in their cars, but that method requires a lot of manpower.
It has not yet been decided, said Kingston, whether every student would be breathalyzed or whether only students who appear intoxicated will be breathalyzed.
Belmont Police will provide breathalyzer training for school staff. It is likely, said Kingston, that the high school principal and two assistant principals would be trained to administer the breathalyzers.
The breathalyzers would not be used during the regular school day, said Kingston.
The district is planning a demonstration for students of how the breathalyzer works, said Kingston. A designated adult will drink a beer and then come into the high school during a lunch hour to show students how alcohol registers on the device.
Kingston said that many schools in the state use breathalyzers, and the possibility has long been discussed in Belmont. Officials have spoken with the School Committee, with parent groups, student groups and the district health and safety advisory committee, he said, and the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.
Students who fail the breathalyzer will be subject to penalties outlined in the student handbook.
The handbook says that students who possess or are under the influence of drugs or alcohol on school grounds at any time or at any school-sponsored function are subject to immediate out-of-school suspension or possible expulsion. The handbook also states that “involvement with the local police department will occur, leading to possible court action.”
Kingston said there will not be an automatic referral to police, and the handbook specifies that police may be contacted at the discretion of the administration.
The policy, Kingston said, will ensure that students can safely enjoy dances.
“We want to be able to have our proms, we want to be able to have our fund raiser dances and sock hops,” he said.
Evan Allen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org