Should DA Breathalyze at School Dances?
By Eilene Yang October 2015
Let’s all just be real here. As teenagers, pressured to fit into certain social standards and attempting to find ourselves, we are not unfamiliar with drugs and alcohol. The student body knows this to be true. The school administration is not naive. Indeed, Youth Risk Behavior Surveys have found that among high school students on any given day, 35 percent have consumed alcohol in the past thirty days. Faced with the realities of teenage life, breathalyzing at dances becomes a necessary precaution.
Breathalyzing is first a matter of individual safety. We are all aware of the risks of drugs
and alcohol; we’ve been bombarded with lectures about driving under the influence and potential long-term health damages since middle school. Breathalyzing reduces these risks for students by making everyone think twice about consuming decision-impairing substances at school events. Even for those who luck out at the dice roll, the chance of being caught and the potential consequences deter illicit activities.
This policy is also a matter of liability. Dances are, after all, school-sanctioned events, and Durham Academy has an obligation to prevent violation of the law under such premises. In North Carolina, an adult who allows underage drinking may actually be charged with a misdemeanor. For a school not to take preventative measures would be irresponsible and legally dubious.
Liability concerns also take the form of backlash and negative publicity from angry parents. If the consumption of drugs and alcohol were known to be implicitly condoned at Upper School dances, or if there were any safety concerns, there would inevitably be parental action taken against the school and the administration, which DA may not necessarily appreciate.
I will admit, though, breathalyzing is a bit annoying. Walking into a dance with friends, the last thing I want to do is to wait in line as a teacher or administrator rolls a die and subsequently decides whether I look responsible enough to get out of being breathalyzed.
However, I recognize that this temporary nuisance is worth the inconvenience, a sentiment that is largely shared in the student body. At the end of the day, classmates who were asked how they felt about breathalyzing at dances almost all mirrored the sentiments of senior class president Abby Breitfeld, who replied, “Fine."
By Loften Deprez October 2015
Despite good intentions, the implementation of random breathalyzing at school dances hurts both individuals and the school community at large. The screenings prove to be an unjustified intrusion of privacy and source of incorrect results for those who do not drink before a dance and simply force those who wish to use substances to wait till after the dance to do so.
Randomly screening individuals who enter dances rather than just those who exhibit signs of alcohol intoxication breaks down levels of trust and infringes upon the privacy of students. Although Durham Academy is a private institution, it should still respect students’ privacy rights, as public schools would under the constitutional protections of the 4th and 5th Amendments. Just as many feel that the NSA’s mass surveillance is unauthorized for those who have done nothing wrong, students who do not drink are forced into a system where they do not have faith that the faculty trust them and their decisions.
Breathalyzers are also susceptible to false positives that can ruin a student’s memorable formal or prom experience. Studies conducted by professors at the University of California, San Diego and the National Institute of Health have found that breathalyzers are not as reliable as they may seem. On the administrator’s end, applying various hand sanitizers can cause false readings, even if the hand sanitizer has completely dried. On the students’ end, diabetics, dieters, and asthmatics all are at risk of triggering a reading displaying that they have consumed alcohol even when they have had nothing to drink.
The consequences of a false positive from a breathalyzer at school dances prove disastrous. A student looking forward to senior prom would be devastated if he or she were unjustly turned away and disciplinary action was taken. Even if the mistake is later cleared up, the student subject to the mechanical failure faces serious undue stress when accused of drinking by his teacher, stigmatized by his peers as his reputation is called into question.
For all of these harms, few benefits are realized for the school in its efforts to reduce drug use. First, students who are set on drinking with their friends will abandon the school event and drink elsewhere. This means that students are still drinking and the attendance of dances, often used to raise money for various charitable causes, is reduced. Second, students who wish to attend school dances under the influence can simply turn to other drugs. There is no reason a student could not use marijuana or another drug before the dance, since those substances cannot be detected by a breathalyzer.
While the administration’s goals are laudable in randomly breathalyzing students who come to dances, the practical implications are disastrous. Trust is destroyed between students and teachers while creating the potential for very traumatic experiences for those who have done nothing wrong. The administration should instead breathalyze only those who appear under the influence of alcohol, or, if they are insistent upon continuing random breathalyzing, conduct tests at the end of the dance to be more effective in reducing alcohol consumption and increasing the safety of students.