Chesterton Tribune

 

 

School board okays mandatory breathalyzers as pilot program

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By KEVIN NEVERS

The Duneland School Board has formally approved a pilot program under which all CHS students attending this spring’s Senior Banquet and Prom will undergo breathalyzer testing, commonly referred to by law enforcement as a portable breath test (PBT).

The board voted 5-0 to authorize Chesterton High School Principal Jim Goetz to establish the pilot program, then report back this summer on its success--or otherwise--and at that time make recommendations about the feasibility of codifying a more permanent policy.

Prior to the vote, Goetz provided members with an overview of the PBT initiative.

Well in advance of the “privileged event,” both students and parents would receive notification of the mandatory PBT, which would be printed on dance tickets and dance posters and announced over the public address at CHS. Parents, for their part, would receive an automated call and an e-mail and would have the opportunity to discuss the PBT at a meeting with CHS officials.

“There will not be any excuses for a child’s saying they didn’t know this was going to happen,” Goetz said. “We’re not trying to get a kid in trouble. We’re trying to give them a reason not to get into trouble, to say No.”

The PBTs will be obtained from the Chesterton Police Department and will be administered by assistant principals and chaperones, after they have been trained--well in advance of the privileged event--by CPD personnel. DSC Security Resource Officer Steve Rohe “will get the devices from the CPD and he will train chaperones how to use them before the dance,” Goetz emphasized. “It’s not going to be on the fly. We’re going to do it ahead of time.”

If any student tests positive for alcohol, a second PBT will be administered, this time by a CPD officer.

If that student tests positive on the second PBT, he or she will be referred to local law enforcement. “Whether they make a report or file a charge, that’s their decision,” Goetz said. “The police have always looked at individual cases. Sometimes the kid is released to parents. Sometimes not, based on the severity.”

In any case, Goetz said, the school sanctions for a positive result on a second PBT are exactly similar to those for any violation of the Duneland School Corporation’s drug policy:

*A first violation will lead to suspension. A second to a recommendation for expulsion.

*Students who complete the Positive Life Program will miss 20 percent of any extracurricular activities. They will miss 40 percent if they do not complete it.

*A counseling recommendation will be made through the Positive Life Program classes.

Discussion

Both members Ralph Ayres and Kristen Kroeger wanted to know whether Goetz was interested in mandatory PBTs at all school events.

Goetz said he wasn’t, only at the four big dances: Homecoming, Winter Formal, Senior Banquet, and Prom. “We’re talking about doing these at dances. Options kids make to come to.”

But CHS could in principle conduct PBTs at other events, at football games, for example, as Carmel High School does, Kroeger pressed.

“Just for the dances,” Goetz replied. “If I want to do it for other events, I will come back to you. That’s not my intention at this point.”

Ayres and Kroeger were also both insistent that the PBT initiative at this spring’s Senior Banquet and Prom be conducted with the understanding that, at this point, it is a pilot program only. “I’d like to see it as a policy, because we have no details in writing,” Ayres said. “If it’s a pilot program, you’ll be required to report back to the board on its success. Or its failure.”

Goetz promised to make a follow-up report, with information about the logistics of the PBTs, the length of time it takes to administer them, and so forth.

“And then we can have a written policy,” Kroeger pressed.

“Yes,” Goetz said.

Public Comments

Three persons spoke against the PBT pilot program from the floor. A CHS senior spoke in favor of it.

“You’re saying to students ‘Prove to me you’re not doing anything wrong,’” William Barkow remonstrated. “Americans have an expectation of the liberty from having to prove they’re innocent.”

Member John Marshall responded by noting that every American who flies on a commercial airline is required to do something of the same, by undergoing stringent screening procedures, to which Marshall said that he doesn’t object at all--despite their inconvenience--because they ensure the safety of everyone on board the plane.

“If one life is saved--” Marshall began to say, but was interrupted by Barkow, who argued that that sort of “statement is made by someone who thinks he’s on a higher moral plane.”

Geoff Benson suggested that, instead of all students undergoing mandatory PBTs at a privileged event, they be required to sign a form to the effect that they would be willing to be randomly tested. Then, “if a suspicion arises,” a student may be compelled to submit to the PBT. “It might save you money,” Benson said. “Testing every single kids who comes through the door might be a logistic nightmare.”

Ralph Levi, a former Porter County Sheriff’s Police, maintained that, if the corporation’s drug policy hasn’t gotten through to a student by the time he or she is ready to attend a privileged event, then “they’re just too stupid.”

“What are you going to do with a false positive reading?” Levi asked. “What about a kid who uses Scope because he wants to kiss a girl? I’m not saying it’s going to show up but it could. You’re going to ruin his life? If its .001 percent, is the kid out of school? Where do the kid’s rights come? Does he have any? What are you going to do with his car? What are you going to do with his date? You’ve got a lot of questions you haven’t answered.”

CHS student Lauren Lecy, on the other hand, voiced her support of the pilot program. “To breathalyze somebody isn’t a big deal,” she said. “To die in a tragedy is, and it’s a liability for the school.”

Final Thoughts from the Board

“Certainly this isn’t an easy decision,” Kroeger said. “I’m certain Mr. Goetz and his administrative team did not make this decision easily.” But “recent incidents indicate some students don’t respect our policies,” she noted, and “the safety of students is one of our top priorities.”

“The majority of parents seem to support this,” Kroeger added, and this initiative will “motivate students to think logically about their use of alcohol.”

Kroeger did say that, in general, she would like the numbers of students randomly drug-tested under the corporation’s drug policy to be increased.

Member Mike Trout suggested that establishing the PBTs at this spring’s two events is a “fair compromise” and remarked that he sees no difference between PBTs at a privileged event and the corporation’s current drug-testing policy.

“We want our children in an environment that’s as safe as possible,” Ayres said. “Nobody wants a call saying there was an accident. You don’t know who might be consuming alcohol.”

 

Posted 4/11/2013