Region 16 school board introduces breathalyzer policy

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A proposed policy would give school officials the authority to issue breathalyzer tests to Region 16 students. Woodland Regional High School students could be subject to the test at such school sponsored events like the prom. –FILE PHOTO

PROSPECT — Region 16 students may soon be subject to breathalyzer testing under a new, proposed Board of Education policy.

“It’s all about education and deterrents and helping the kids make better choices,” said Robert Hiscox, chair of the school board’s policy committee.

The school board approved the first reading of the breathalyzer testing policy at its Feb. 22 meeting. A vote to approve the policy is expected to be taken during the board’s next scheduled meeting March 14 at Woodland Regional High School in Beacon Falls.

The policy doesn’t specify which students will be subject to the tests. Interim Superintendent of Schools Tim James said the policy is geared towards middle and high school students.

James and Hiscox said the policy is not in response to any particular incidents at the schools, particularly Woodland, or an inordinate increase in drinking by students. Both emphasized the policy is a proactive step to help keep students and the school environment safe.

“We just want to be proactive,” Hiscox said. “You have to realize Woodland is no different that any other high school in the state.”

James added, “It’s really just to keep everyone safe, including the particular student, when they’re in school.”

Under the proposed policy, school administrators and their “designated representatives” would be given the authority to conduct breathalyzer tests at school, on school buses or at any school-sponsored activity. The tests could be conducted with all students entering a school-sponsored event, with randomly selected students, or with individual students when reasonable suspicion exists that a student is under the influence of, or has used, alcohol.

Under the proposal policy, “reasonable suspicion” includes observed use or possession of alcohol, the odor of alcohol, and an apparent physical state of impairment of motor functions.

If a student is caught, he or she could be subject to disciplinary actions up to and including expulsion, suspension or dismissal from athletic teams.

School board Chair Priscilla Cretella said the policy is another way for the board to reinforce its zero tolerance policy when it comes to drugs and alcohol.

“Anything that strengthens our zero tolerance policy is good,” Cretella said.

If the policy is approved, authorized staff would be trained in using the breathalyzers, and an assembly would be held to inform students of the policy. Parents will also be notified of the new procedure.

“It’s not meant to be this secret device that we’re going to pull out of our back pocket,” James said.

Along with the breathalyzer testing policy, the board also approved the first reading of revisions to the drugs, alcohol, and tobacco policy. The revisions are intended to bring the policy up to date with state statutes, officials said.

Hiscox said the policy committee also plans to define an existing policy on drug searches performed by drug sniffing police dogs in the schools. He said officials want to ensure the policy is up to date if the board ever decides to use it.

Late last year, Naugatuck Naugatuck High School Principal Jan Saam announced plans to begin enforcing the borough school board’s policy for K9 drug searches in schools with the intent of sending a clear message to students that drugs would not be tolerated at the school. The first drug sweep was performed in January at Naugatuck High. Police found no drugs at the school.

Hiscox said the board is not out to get students. Rather, he said, the board wants students to know these policies exist and are available for the board to use.

By being proactive, Hiscox felt, it could help to head off any future problems.

“If we have the program in place the kids will be less likely to make poor decisions,” Hiscox said.