A Policy Narrowly Approved by the Dracut School Board That Subjects Students Suspected of Being Under the Influence to Breath-alcohol Testing Attempts to Walk That Fine Line Between Public Safety and the Right to Privacy.

February 14, 2018

That was evident in the committee’s 3-2 vote.

Superintendent of Schools Steven Stone, who initially proposed the measure last month, sold it as an added layer of protection for the school system.

Though it can be utilized at any time during the school day, Stone emphasized he envisions it being primarily employed during extracurricular activities, like proms and presumably sports events.

As a result, students could now be asked prior to entering a school event to exhale about four to six inches away from a handheld monitoring device, which would instantly read either a positive or a negative for alcohol. If the test indicates the presence of alcohol, students may ask for additional tests, but they would not be allowed to attend the event.

Additionally, parents or guardians would immediately be contacted and required to retrieve the student, who would then likely be disciplined as outlined in student handbooks.

Board members in favor of the new policy cited the added degree of safety this policy provides. Joe Wilkie told The Sun he arrived at his decision after consulting with several educators who backed the superintendent’s position. The alcohol testing also had the support of the Dracut Police Department.

However, committee members opposed also brought up valid points, including unintended outcomes of this policy and the infringement on personal freedoms.

Dan O’Connell wondered whether students might spurn alcohol for less detectable drugs like marijuana, which is now legal for recreational use to anyone 21 and older.

Sabrina Heisey, who cast the other dissenting vote, didn’t like the language that assumed someone was guilty of alcohol use for simply refusing to take the test. Heisey also made a motion recommending parents whose students tested positive for alcohol pursue a form of health assistance. While it made perfect sense, the board rejected it.

That’s precisely what the optional screening of seventh- and 10-graders included in the state’s far-reaching opioid-fighting bill seeks to accomplish.

We believe that used selectively with prior notification, the Dracut schools’ alcohol-testing program can prevent students from harming themselves and others with whom they come in contact. Superintendent Stone insists this new school tool won’t be used indiscriminately or abused.

While we understand the opposition’s privacy concerns, minors don’t have a constitutional right to break the law. The drinking age in this state is 21, and those younger who imbibe risk the legal consequences if caught. As outlined, Dracut’s alcohol proposal strikes the right balance between prevention and privacy. At some point, school officials should review the policy to see if its enforcement has achieved the desired effect.

If it receives a favorable review, it could serve as a blueprint for other school systems to follow.