EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 12, 2012

Andover schools consider event breath test

Andover High suspensions for student alcohol use on the rise, breath tests may start next year

By Dustin Luca

---- — ANDOVER —The Andover High School Council is proposing that students submit to breath tests before being allowed into school dances and some other functions.

The proposal “will eliminate a certain population of the school from going to the dances,” said student Brian Wivell, student liaison to the School Committee. “But it might also open up these dances to a different crowd of people that might have been intimidated or afraid to go.”

The proposal for a pilot program is on the agenda for tonight’s School Committee meeting.

High School Principal Chris Lord will suggest a test run at one of the first school-sponsored events of 2013.

In a letter to the School Committee, Lord said the school “is strongly committed to providing an alcohol and drug-free school environment for all students, faculty, and staff. This has been a challenge since in previous years, large numbers of alcohol abuse cases have occurred at dances.”

Two school years ago, students lost a total of 93 days of school due to suspensions because of alcohol use, according to Lord. That number jumped to 127 for the last school year ending in June - for a 36 percent increase.

The proposal was conceived by the School Council, which consists of students, teachers and parents.

As proposed, “all students attending the dance/school event will be given a Breathalyzer test which requires the students to lightly blow in the direction of the device from a distance of 4-6 inches,” Lord said

Should a student receive a positive reading, a second test would be done to eliminate the possibility of a false positive, according to Lord.

If a student tests positive after two readings, he or she would be sent home and possibly face other disciplinary action, including a three-day suspension and completing two outside family counseling sessions.

If a student refuses to test, the student’s parents would be “notified and asked to transport the student from the dance/event,” Lord said.

Other Massachusetts communities including other Belmont, Danvers, Hamilton-Wenham and Ipswich, have implemented such programs.

Those towns “report a 100 percent reduction in student alcohol infractions since policy implementation,” Lord said.

If the test run proves effective, the School Council would ask the School Committee to formalize “the breathalyzer policy going forward,” Lord said.

Meanwhile, Wivell said there is another problem regarding school dances: a lack of student interest.

The school canceled its annual Holly Ball because of expected low attendance. What led to the drop off in student interest is a new policy prohibiting a form of dancing called grinding during which the partipants rub up against each other. The policy was put into effect after a dance earlier this year.

While Wivell isn’t arguing for an end to punishing those who dance inappropriately, he said the problem needs to be addressed differently.

“There has to be an understanding between administrators and students on how to accomplish having a fun dance while still having a responsible hang-out on a Friday night,” he said. “Just, once again, open up the conversation. But this time, with more student involvement.”

The School Committee is scheduled to meet in its conference room at 7 p.m., during which it will hear the proposal among a number of other agenda items. The meeting will be held in the committee’s meeting room at 36R Bartlet St., on the second floor above the Senior Center, and aired live on local cable access channels.