Should There be Alcohol Testing at Prom?

This year, all public high schools in the Salem-Keizer School District began randomly testing students for alcohol levels at school dances, starting with prom. Four staff members used breathalyzers, which contain an infrared light that detects chemical compounds attributed to the methyl group, to test students before prom.  To decide who would be tested, students had to pick a number and roll a die. If the chosen number was the same as the one on the die, the student would be tested in a private room. All students who passed the test received a shirt. Many students are upset by this decision, claiming that the money could be better spent elsewhere and is a violation of the fourth amendment.

Salem-Keizer High School principals met with the level director and unanimously decided that the breathalyzer tests would help keep students safe. Vice Principal Tara Romine will be overseeing the implementation of the policy.

“I think it’s a strategy that we’re trying to see if we can help prevent or deter students from using alcohol or other substances prior to coming to a school activity,” Romine said.

All students and parents or guardians have to sign an agreement about the rules and consequences of being under the influence or participating in other inappropriate activities, such as sexually suggestive dancing. If a student fails the test, they will get a second test to take it. If they fail a second time, their parents will be called to escort them home. If they are a senior, they will not be able to walk at graduation.

“It somewhat disappoints me that we need to put something like this in place because of given circumstances. I don’t feel as if the consequences are too harsh because we had to fill out an agreement to even purchase a ticket to go to prom,” Piper [Zoe] Gillet ’19 said.

In the court case Board of Education of Independent School District No. 92 of Pottawatomie County v. Earls, it was deemed by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals that drug testing is a violation of the fourth amendment. This made school drug testing banned in the Districts of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, and the Eastern, Northern and Western Districts of Oklahoma.

They regarded it as unreasonable search and seizure stating that schools “must demonstrate that there is some identifiable drug abuse problem among a sufficient number of those subject to the testing, such that testing that group of students will actually redress its drug problem.”

A district wide study to see how many people use alcohol or other substances before school activities would be extremely useful in this situation. The American Automobile Association [AAA] surveyed teens aged 16-19 and 31 percent reported they or their peers would use alcohol or drugs during prom and graduation season.

Breathalyzer tests are relatively expensive, as the district has to pay around $200 for each of the four tests, plus paying staff to administer them. Perhaps this method is a bandaid problem for teenage alcohol abuse and instead they should spend more time on educating youth about both health concerns for alcohol and how to be save if you do drink. No matter what is done, some teenagers will still drink, so it is good to inform them about safe practices.

“I think that maybe instead of the breathalyzers we should be focusing on more funding into teaching teenagers how to be safe with that… where they know what is cautious and what is okay and things about making sure you have a buddy with you or a designated driver,” Hannah Brown ’20 said. “Stuff like that and then consent teachings would also be good.”

Many American schools are starting to adapt alcohol and drug tests for sports events as well. While it temporarily prevents use, it does not stop the ongoing problem of alcohol abuse.

Teacher/Adviser South Salem High School

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