Vice Squad
Saturday, March 05, 2005
Breath-Testing High Schoolers

One recent innovation in our nation's secondary schools is more frequent use of breathalyzer tests:
[In East Hampton, NY] school administrators this winter proposed administering breath analyzers to students while high school is in session. Any student suspected of being drunk in class would be tested by a trained staff member, and not a police officer, board officials said. Results showing alcohol consumption would mean suspension. Refusing to take a test would be seen as an admission of guilt.

In central Connecticut, officials in the Avon School District are writing a plan similar to East Hampton's. A school district near South Bend, Ind. has had the policy in place for several years. Other districts around the country may well use their breath analyzers during the school day, even if their policies were originally intended for events outside of school.
Early identification of kids with a drinking problem -- and being drunk at school is probably a strong signal of having a drinking problem -- is helpful, as kids (like adults) can be good at hiding the extent of their alcohol dependence. Used sparingly and intelligently, school breath tests might be a good idea. But it is easy to see their use cascading into a tool to harass the usual suspects, or to supplement phys ed classes as a means to heap indignities upon young scholars. East Hampton claims that it will use the tests discreetly and only with parental permission, but that has not always been the case elsewhere: "In Indiana, at Penn High School in Mishawaka, which has a similar policy, the principal was forced to apologize to a student who had been pulled out of class by a police officer last year and given three breath tests, all of which were negative."

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