By Dustin Luca
---- — ANDOVER — Trying to get into the high school dance? Blow into this breath tester first, please.
The School Committee unanimously approved a pilot program last night for Breathalyzer use at school events for the rest of the year. Under the program, students arriving at dances will need to blow into a Breathalyzer in order to get through the doors.
The policy was brought to the School Committee by the Andover High School’s School Council, a representative group of students, teachers, administrators and more. They created the proposal after alcohol issues at the school grew in number over the last few years.
Under the policy, students attending the events with Breathalyzer testing will blow into the device from four to six inches away. If the test ends with a positive reading, a second one will be administered to eliminate the possibility of a false positive.
Students who blow a reading on both tests will be released to their parents and prohibited from entering the event. Disciplinary action outlined in the school’s student handbook will be enforced as if the student came to school drunk. Punishments include a three-day suspension and completion of two outside family counseling sessions.
The first event to use the policy will be the school’s Valentine’s Day dance next month.
While there has been no established schedule for other events to test the policy, one guaranteed to require breath testing will be the school’s prom, held around May, according to Brian Wivell, student liaison to the School Committee and member of the School Council.
Guests attending the prom who aren’t from the school will also be required to blow into the devices in order to attend, as outlined in the policy.
While the council supported the proposal and the School Committee put the pilot in motion with a unanimous vote, the proposal was not popular among students.
A student government survey administered to school lunch periods Wednesday, Jan. 9, asked students what they thought of the proposal, among other things. Of the 321 that responded, just over 60 percent were against the policy, according to Wivell.
The school’s Student Government itself has yet to take a position on the proposal. When discussing the survey last night, Wivell said more data is necessary before taking a position, such as what grades the students against the policy are in.
Paula Colby-Clements, School Committee chairwoman, said she wasn’t sure what to make of the survey response. But at the same time, she understood why a slim majority of students were against it.
“Whenever you have policies, like one making you wear a seat belt, people get a little antsy when Big Brother is telling them what to do,” she said.
While Lord said he hasn’t personally heard any negative feedback from students on the policy, when asked about the outcome of the survey, he said, “I think they need to understand it better.”
“They put up DUI rules for the public,” he said. “Those were rolled out over time, and we’re trying to mirror that.”
The School Committee also solicited feedback from the public via a section of the School Department’s website explaining the policy and asking for those with thoughts to send them to Colby-Clements by email. As of yesterday, she hadn’t received a single comment, she said.
To her, the lack of a response suggests “that people are happy with it. I don’t think they’re uninterested, particularly the parents that are affected,” she said. “This particular type of policy is one that many communities have. It’s not like it’s new and novel, and maybe we’re a little bit behind the curve in not having it.”
If the pilot is deemed successful, it will be modified as needed and brought back to the School Committee by the Student Council in the future. That will likely happen over the summer, Colby-Clements said.