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Merrimack Valley

May 18, 2013

Andover using Breathalyzers at school dances

As prom season commences, town is one of few communities using the device

Andover remains one of just a handful of communities across the state — and the only one in the Merrimack Valley — administering a breath-alcohol test to students prior to school dances.

And school officials say the practice, now part of a pilot program, is likely to become permanent.

“I support the Breathalyzer policy continuing,” said Superintendent Marinel McGrath. She noted that while it was a big change for students this year, especially seniors, new students, like incoming freshmen, will adapt to it over time.

“Seniors never had it, so they don’t like it,” she said. “But freshmen coming in know nothing different.”

Several students interviewed at the high school this week said they stopped going to dances because they didn’t feel like they were trusted.

But they are going to the prom at the Hilton Hotel in Danvers tonight, where Breathalyzers will be on-hand, administered by local police to students suspected of being drunk.

“As kids, we don’t appreciate the Breathalyzer,” said Charles Haseltine, 18, a senior. “The turnout at dances this year was low because of it.”

But, he said, he does support them being used for the prom and the upcoming Senior Safari, when students gather at the high school for a big party the night of graduation.

“It just takes one (intoxicated) kid to ruin it for everyone,” he said.

High School Principal Chris Lord said the Breathalyzers were only used at one event since the policy was implemented in January, and attendance was way down at that event. But, he said, there was also a basketball game that night that many students attended instead of going to the dance. One event at the school was canceled due to lack of participation, according to a school official.

McGrath said it is typical for attendance to go down after such a policy is implemented, but that turnout returns to normal once the policy has been in place for a while.

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