“What that really means is we don’t think we are capable of holding a safe event. If this decision came to be, then I would just cancel the dance altogether,” Principal Michael Griffith said.
And with those words, Griffith ruled out Breathalyzing as a tool to curb student drinking before school socials.
The future of dances is in question after three students were apprehended by school officials and faced consequences for drunkenness at the Oct. 15 Homecoming dance. This incident was the most recent and, along with past incidents, raises concerns about how to address the problem.
Breathalyzing has become a solution many schools in the area have adopted to stem drinking at school events. Among these is Chagrin Falls, where the student handbook explains the procedure used for any school events. It states, “Students suspected of having used alcohol may be required to submit to a Breathalyzer test. If the student refuses to take the Breathalyzer test it will be automatically assumed they have used alcohol and will be subject to school consequences.”
Griffith, however, struggles with the use of the test. “Even if we were to reason that . . . 100 plus students came to the dance drunk, that means that 800-900 students didn’t,” he said. He explained that Breathalyzing would force the majority of students to prove that they had not consumed alcohol. “To me, that is wrong,” Griffith said.
Although Griffith believes alcohol use is not a big enough problem to start Breathalyzing, he did say that a rule was instated several years ago that requires kids to show up to the Homecoming dance before 9 p.m. or be refused admission. The policy was designed to limit the time students could spend drinking before arriving at the dance.
Social worker Chris Ruma-Cullen, who heads an Alateen chapter, thinks differently about Breathalyzing. “I would definitely be in support of Breathalyzing because it is one tool we can use that can help minimize drinking. Although it won’t stop everything, it will stop the vast majority,” she said.
Ruma-Cullen also noted parents’ responsibilities in stopping underage alcohol abuse. “Messages parents give their kids are the most important because kids listen to them the most,” she said.
Logan Davis, head of Student Council social committee, said that future dances are a subject of conversation in council. Davis explained that Breathalyzing is still seen as unnecessary. She said that the administration knows that some kids drink before Homecoming “but will choose to ignore it unless it becomes a problem,” Davis said.
According to Griffith, it is unclear if and what changes will be made to future dances. We “need to evaluate whether or not we can hold an event that is safe, positive and free from those kinds of behaviors” Griffith said. There have been no decisions made yet about future dances, but Griffith said that “what we are doing currently is not working.” The administration is considering other approaches to limit drinking.
Sophomore Natasha Simske said breath tests are fair. “If you’re going to drink, it should be in the privacy of your own home,” she said.
Caroline Weingart, parent of sophomore Lizzie Weingart, is not sure Breathalyzer tests would help. “I know many schools in our area do [Breathalyze], but I’m not sure it cuts down on the teen drinking,” she said. “At those schools, the kids just binge afterwards. Maybe it’s time to have some serious discussions about it with parents, students and administrators from our school, other schools where they do Breathalyze and some health officials.”
Davis explained that she has been working on getting a second dance for a couple months. The proposal was restructured so it would appeal to the administration. She said the winter dance needed to be made more formal because “a classier presentation leads to classier behavior.”
“The school is hesitant to sponsor an event for kids to get drunk and dance dirty,” Davis said.
Davis confirmed that nothing has been decided about dances in the immediate future. As for the winter formal, “because it’s on the calendar, it’s pretty permanent, but I’m more worried about it being taken off in the future.”
A version of this article appeared in print on 21 November 2011, on page 2 of The Shakerite.