August 22, 2014

Medina
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Districts look into alcohol-detection devices for school dances

High school homecomings and proms may bring to mind dancing, limos and corsages, and Medina County schools want to make sure teenage drinking isn’t part of the pic­ture.

Several school districts in the county are considering having alco­hol- detection devices at school dances, and some have weighed the pros and cons of testing every stu­dent on their way into the dance.

The Buckeye Local School District purchased two such devices, called Intoximeters, in September for $450 each.

Robert Locher, a Medina County sheriff’s deputy and school resource officer for Buckeye Local School District, demonstrates one of the school’s two Intoximeters with Buckeye senior Joe Walker. (COURTESY PHOTO)

Robert Locher, a Medina County sheriff’s deputy and school resource officer for Buckeye Local School District, demonstrates one of the school’s two Intoximeters with Buckeye senior Joe Walker. (COURTESY PHOTO)

“We just want to be proactive,” Superintendent Dennis Honkala said. “Teenage drinking is always a concern across the country.”

A 2005 study by the National Insti­tute on Alcohol Abuse and Alco­holism found that 75 percent of high school seniors, more than two-thirds of 10th-graders and about two in every five eighth-graders have con­sumed alcohol, according to the institute’s website.

When it comes to binge drinking, which the institute classifies as a blood-alcohol level of more than 0.08 percent, 11 percent of eighth­ graders, 22 percent of 10th-graders and 29 percent of 12th-graders “had engaged in heavy episodic, or binge, drinking within the past two weeks,” according to the study.

During its Oct. 12 meeting, the Buckeye school board dis­cussed its policies regarding the use of alcohol-detection devices, similar to Breathalyz­ers, at school dances. For its homecoming dance last month, a decision was made to only test students if they volunteered or were sus­pected of using alcohol, Honkala said.

“We have the equipment and we’ll use it on suspicion,” he said.

Other districts are looking into equipment costs, the potential for sharing that equipment with other schools and policies for using it on students.

In Medina, the high school is in the process of putting together a committee to eval­uate school dances, Superin­tendent Randy Stepp said. The committee will look at all aspects of school dances, alcohol issues included.

Stepp said teen drinking at school functions is a problem that “comes and goes” with each class.

Two Medina students were suspended after this year’s homecoming dance for show­ing up under the influence of alcohol, Stepp said.

“It’s a common issue that every school deals with,” he said.

In Medina County’s seven school districts, suspension is almost automatic for any stu­dent caught under the influ­ence at a school function, and expulsion is a possibility.

In Brunswick, Superinten­dent Mike Mayell said the dis­trict is considering alcohol­ testing devices at dances.

“We’re all for that,” Mayell said. “If you can put in a pol­icy that stops one kid from making a bad choice, then it’s a good policy.”

He said the district most likely would require each stu­dent to prove he or she has not been drinking before entering a dance.

“If we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it to every kid that walks into the dance,” Mayell said.

He said while the district hasn’t had many issues with students showing up to dances under the influence of alcohol, “that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.”

Other districts, like Wadsworth, Highland and Cloverleaf, have relied on pre­vention efforts and police officers to deter students from drinking before they arrive at dances .

“On occasion we’ll have a student who might come under the influence,” Wadsworth Superintendent Dale Fortner said. “We have done a pretty good job of monitoring it.”

Cloverleaf Superintendent Daryl Kubilus said there have not been any incidents of stu­dents who were found to be intoxicated at school dances, although there have been cases at other school func­tions. He attributed the suc­cess to prevention education leading up to the dances.

“Administrators focus on the knowledge of dangers and consequences,” Kubilus said. “They focus on that before dances, especially, but with the D.A.R.E. program as well.” The Cloverleaf school board discussed using alcohol-test­ing devices last year, but “the board was wary of performing suspicion-less searches on stu­dents,” Kubilus said.

While education about alcohol and the conse­quences of drinking are important, Stepp said, a large part of prevention is beyond any school’s control — what happens at home before a student enters school prop­erty.

“In the end, we can have the best policies in the world in place, but we still can’t con­trol what kids do before they come to the dance,” Stepp said. “We need parental sup­port to be able to address it appropriately.”

Black River Superintendent Janice Wyckoff said she believes teen drinking is a problem at all schools, at least on some level. As for whether alcohol-detection devices are the solution, she said: “They’re well worth the expense if we get to save one life.”

Contact Jennifer Pignolet at (330) 721-4063 or jpignolet@medina-gazette.com.