Our View: Discussion needed on Breathalyzer issue | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: Discussion needed on Breathalyzer issue

— The Steamboat Springs School Board should hold a public discussion about whether random Breathalyzer testing is appropriate for school-related events.

Such a discussion would help clarify why Steamboat Springs High School initially announced random testing would be in place for the May 5 prom before reversing course amid School Board and administration concerns. Such a discussion would give advocates and opponents of random testing – including students themselves – the opportunity to state their cases publicly. It also would give board members the opportunity to express their stances.

Finally, it would establish policy for future events.

There were obvious problems with the Breathalyzer policy from the start. Principal Mike Knezevich said he chose to implement random testing for the prom after students at the school suggested the idea. “When the kids said, ‘We want this,’ that sealed it for me,” he said. “When kids come with the idea, it’s pretty powerful.”

But School Board members and Superintendent Donna Howell said they were not aware random testing was in place for this year’s prom until reading about it in the newspaper two days before the event.

Howell said she discussed the policy with attorney Dick Lyons and decided it should not be done. School Board President Denise Connelly said she and other School Board members discussed the practice via e-mail and also decided it should not be done.

We support Knezevich’s desire to respond to a student-initiated request and to ensure a safe and sober prom. But he should not move forward with something as controversial as random Breathalyzer testing of students without administration and School Board approval. Also, we question how the School Board subsequently arrived at a decision to stop the testing without first holding a board meeting. Using e-mail to arrive at board consensus is not an appropriate substitute for an announced, public meeting.

Overall, the episode raises concerns about policymaking in these sorts of decisions. Foremost, who has the authority to implement policies regarding drug and alcohol testing of students, and how should those policies be crafted?

We believe authority rests with the School Board and the board should establish such policies only after a research-based recommendation from staff and discussions with the community, particularly parents.

This is no small issue. Alcohol use often puts teens in harm’s way, and we support efforts to reduce such use. An alcohol-related incident at the 2006 prom underscores how serious the matter can be. At the same time, we respect the privacy concerns the use of random Breathalyzer testing raises.

The opportunity has passed for this year’s prom, which we understand went off without incident. Fortunately, there remains ample opportunity for the School Board to take up the matter again. We would encourage the board to consider placing the issue on an upcoming agenda that would give student advocates of random testing, particularly seniors who graduate in less than a month, the opportunity to address the board.

The use of random Breathalyzers at this year’s prom fell apart amid miscommunication and confusion. But that doesn’t mean the school district should simply abandon the idea. Rather, we would encourage the School Board to invite input and decide publicly what the district’s policies should be.

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