Officials can now conduct random and universal breathalyzer tests
Under changes approved by the School Committee Tuesday night, school officials will now be allowed to use breathalyzer tests at random before or during school functions or activities.
Previously, the policy limited the use of breathalyzers on students using “reasonable suspicion” by school personnel or its designees. Some of those aspects outlined in the policy are slurred speech, unsteady gait, lack of coordination, and the smell of alcohol emanating from a student.
The new policy, which passed unanimously, adds the use of randomized or universal breathalyzer tests before or during school functions or activities “to protect the safety and well-being of the entire student body.” Find the policy here: Revised Policy 8315, Alcohol Breathalyzer Use, 10/17/2023.
The policy states that a representative from EG Public Schools will notify students and families when either of these testing formats will be implemented. In part, the policy states that “the superintendent and the principal will provide students and families with advance notice, prior to and during the advance ticketing of the event, of its plan to test all students and an explanation of the testing procedure.”
Another new aspect of the policy addresses privacy. The new policy states: “Randomization protocols will ensure that no students are being personally selected or targeted and that the administration of the breathalyzer test will be executed with due care for student privacy and well-being.”
“This provides an objective measurement,” said School Committee member Tim Munoz. “I think it’s a much more level playing field. And it has a lot to do with trusting students and protecting student rights so they can’t be singled out.”
This decision comes after an event last spring where alcohol was found on a rented bus with EGHS students on their way to the EGHS prom. Supt. Brian Ricca mentioned the incident on Tuesday night, saying, “I think this is a reasonable response to what we saw that happened in the spring in a way that isn’t overwhelming.” He said, “I want to state clearly that we are being very thoughtful about this.”
Parent Thomas O’Brien spoke to members of the School Committee on Tuesday night ahead of their vote.
“When you speak of the concern for privacy, I do hope you mean it,” O’Brien said. He made reference to “your substance abuse coordinator” who “shared his concerns in an open letter that was shared [on] social media,” which led to “finger-pointing, gossiping, [and] public shaming.”
(Editor’s note: Substance abuse counselor Bob Houghtaling is a town employee.)
“We have all the protocols in place,” said EGHS Principal Pat Page. “The people administering the breathalyzers have gone through a video-based training to begin with. [We] will be doing actual hands-on training with our SRO [student resource officer] on Friday.” She went on to say that the policies are being implemented with students with special needs in mind and those “who may present with anxiety about the whole process.”
In a document explaining the change of policy, students with special needs are addressed specifically stating, “The revised policy specifies that school personnel and designees must be trained in breathalyzing and de-escalation, must provide accommodations for special needs students and must act with the utmost discretion and care at all times, to protect student safety and privacy.”
Both Page and Ricca mentioned that they would notify students and families of the updated policy in the coming days.