Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

December 20, 2012

Public input sought on school breath test plan

School Comm to vote in January

By Dustin Luca
Staff Writer

---- — Do you think an alcohol breath test should be required for students to attend school events?

School officials are looking for the public’s input on a proposal requiring all students attending a future high school dance to blow into a breathalyzer before entering the event. The proposal was developed by the Andover High School Council made up of faculty, parents, students, administrators and a community member. The proposal was presented to the School Committee last week, and a vote on the proposal is expected sometime in January.

The plan is to try it for one night only at a future event — most likely the school’s Valentine’s Day dance in February — and see how it works, according to Principal Chris Lord.

“With the tragedies that involve kids at this age that get involved in alcohol, under their own circumstances, they make adolescent decisions and cause great pain to their families and communities,” Lord said. “I’m hoping this will address it.”

Trudie Hale, a parent on the School Council, said the concern of safety extends beyond students who may arrive to the event drunk.

It’s “not just for the student, but the community at large,” she said. “It’s not just necessarily the safety of the students at the dance, but after the dance.”

Kerry Costello, faculty adviser to the school’s student government and a School Council member, said that student leaders “welcome it, quite frankly.”

“They think, as long as it passed the legal muster and those kinds of things, they welcomed it with no resistance,” she said. “We see it. We’re there, and we see the students who had obviously been drinking.”

In many cases, drunk students at dances interfere with the event when they make a scene.

“Not everybody goes quietly when they’re being asked to step aside and have their eyes looked at and all these other things,” she said.

As word of the proposal spread, the question of student freedom at school events came up on occasion, according to Costello.

“Once the student governments, students, and once the School Council had their questions around civil liberty kinds of things answered to their satisfaction — because they were concerned about that — they really didn’t have an objection in general,” Costello said.

Kelle Sutliff, a parent with two high school children and a third child at Doherty Middle School, believes the proposal does infringe on student rights.

“You’re going into something with [assuming] someone [is] guilty of something they haven’t done,” Sutliff said.

The problem lies more at home than it does at the school, according to Sutliff.

“When the bottom line comes down, it’s more of a parenting issue than a school issue,” she said. “You don’t need a School Council, or you don’t need an organization to say ‘You can’t do this,’ and then block it for everyone else. We need a spirited community, so kids feel comfortable and they feel safe.”

WHAT COMES NEXT?

Both the School Committee and Student Council are soliciting feedback on the proposal, according to Superintendent Marinel McGrath.

The council is going to poll students about the proposal. Meanwhile, a space will be set up on the School Committee’s website for people to submit comments for the committee to review. The School Committee’s website is aps1.net/index.aspx?nid=421.

The proposal is slated to come before the School Committee again on Jan. 10. If it isn’t prepared to take a vote at that time, the committee will go over it on Jan. 24.