Dracut Schools Will Push Ahead With Breath-Testing Students For Alcohol Use
Feb 16, 2018 05:26PM
● By Bill Gilman
Acting on a recommendation from Superintendent of Schools Steven Stone, the Dracut Public Schools will take steps to implement a program to breath test students suspected of consuming alcohol either on school school grounds, before arriving at school or a school sponsored events.
By a 3-2 vote, the School Committee approved the new policy at its meeting on Feb. 12.
Chairman Joe Wilkie and committee members Betsy Murphy and School Allison Volpe voted in favor of the policy. Members Sabrina Heisey and Dan O'Connell dissented.
The testing system used is different than the Breathalyzer used by law enforcement during traffic stops. Rather than testing the level of alcohol in a person's system, the devices to be used by school officials will merely signal the presence of alcohol in the breath.
The devices work by having a person exhale from about 4 to 6 inches away. The test result is immediate.
Under the new policy, the testing may be used in a couple of different ways. If a student is suspected of being under the influence of alcohol or having consumed alcohol at school or at a school event, the student can be required to submit to the test, conducted by a school official.
However, the testing can also be pre-emptive and more sweeping. For example, students attending Prom will be required to submit to the test before entering the event.
Students who test positive have the right to demand to be retested.
If alcohol use is confirmed, the parents or guardians of the student will be notified and required to come to the location and pick up their child.
Prior to the regular School Committee meeting Monday, a public hearing was held regarding to the new alcohol testing policy. Several people spoke on the issue. Among those who opposed the measure, the greatest concern was violating the rights of the students. Those who spoke in favor said the issue came down to student health and safety.
Prior to the final vote, Heisey had made motions for three separate amendments. The first would have deleted a portion of the policy which calls for the refusal of student to be tested to be considered the same as being under the influence, triggering the discipline called for under present district policy. That motion failed to get a second.
She also sought to have a section removed that called on a student to be disciplined according to the student handbook for intoxication if they tested positive and then left the scene after being told to stay by a school administrator. That motion was defeated, 4-1. Her third motion, which was defeated, 3-2, would have added a line requesting parents or guardians of a student testing positive to seek outside medical treatment for their child.
Stone plans to meet with Dracut High Principal Richard Manley to discuss implementation of the new policy.
Last week, Your Dracut Today conducted an online poll to gauge our readers' feelings on the proposed policy. We received 90 responses. Of those, 42 respondents, or 47 percent, said the testing was a good idea. Another 39 respondents, or 43 percent, said they opposed the plan. We also gave a third choice, testing in the presence of parents or guardians. Nine respondents, or 10 percent, thought that was acceptable.