Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sandpoint High School Students Required to Submit to Breathalyzer Test Regardless of Suspicion

Presumption of innocence. It is the foundation of our legal system and is a right granted to every citizen regardless of age.

But as Sandpoint High School students lined up to enter their Winter Ball last weekend, each and every attendee was required to submit to a breath analysis test – regardless of whether they appeared to be under the influence of alcohol.

“(The practice of administering breath analysis tests) started last year, in response to a Cedar Post article in which students stated they were entering dances under the influence of drugs or alcohol,” said Sandpoint High School Principal Becky Kiebert, referring to the student-run school newspaper.

For the most part, it seems that students do not mind the new rule. Jennifer Prandato is the editor of the Cedar Post and said she thinks the new policy had been well accepted by the students.

“The fact that even just a few students were taking advantage of the nonbreathalyzer rule is a serious enough situation that student council invested in breathalyzers,” said Prandato. “From my experience, the dances have actually been a lot more enjoyable since the rule has been implemented.”

Lake Pend Oreille School District’s Superintendent Dick Cvitanich said he has heard few complaints regarding the newly adopted policy.

“I believe this practice has worked well for us at Sandpoint High School,” said Cvitanich, who adds that one of the district’s responsibilities is to develop wholesome student activities that are well supervised. “Some students and families take issue with it because they believe it can or could be unevenly enforced or that their privacy is invaded. However, I can think of only one negative parent reaction.”

Kiebert said Sandpoint High School is not alone in its policy.

“Coeur d’Alene High School does it at every dance,” said Kiebert, adding that most parents have reacted in favor of the policy. “Students complained at first but, as (with) all changes, they are used to it now and I have heard no complaints this year.”

While the administration and students generally do not appear to take issue with this practice, it is my opinion that it sends a message of distrust to the children in our community.

Instead of administering tests to each and every student who enters the dance, why not show the students that we adults have faith in them and we trust they will make the right decision? If a student exhibits behavior that indicates he or she may be under the influence of alcohol, then administer the breath test, and if a student is shown to have been drinking, contact the parents and remove the student from the dance.

One might think that is a na├»ve approach and that it is better to apply the practice uniformly so no one can claim to be singled out. But I think the practice is not only an infringement on the students’ rights but sends them the wrong message of mistrust.

And what about the students who do not drink before the dance but who, in spite of a search, successfully sneak alcohol into the dance? Does the school then administer a second test?

I think Conrad Underdahl of Lakeland High School has the right approach.

“We do not breathalyze all students who come to dances,” said Underdahl. “But we do have the equipment to breathalyze those students who, based on their behavior, raise suspicion.”

One mother of a Sandpoint High School student is opposed to uniformly administering the breath analysis tests and said that while alcohol is a problem, the bigger issue is the use of marijuana.

Through a breath analysis one can detect the consumption of alcohol, but this mother, who wished to remain anonymous, has a valid concern: What about drug use? Where do we draw the line? If we are not careful, our children will soon be submitting to a urinalysis to detect drug use. Let’s show them that instead of distrusting them, we have faith in them. Allow them the same presumption of innocence that we adults enjoy. Wait until there is reason to believe a student is under the influence of drugs or alcohol before we require a breath analysis or potentially even more invasive tests.

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