Wisconsin High School: Stay Sober or Skip Prom

It could be the only time you wear a tux outside of a wedding.  Dinner somewhere is expected and trouble attaching a boutonniere is a given.  The limo is optional.  But a Breathalyzer – at least at some school proms this year – will be mandatory.

When students from Cedarburg High School in Wisconsin show up to prom on April 20, they’d better be sober.  Officials at the dance will be randomly selecting students to take a Breathalyzer test before they can get in.  Doors are not open to drinkers.

The idea might have come from nearby Germantown High School.  Its students who show up to school-sponsored events with alcohol on their breath could ultimately be expelled.  And testing at Germantown events isn’t based on someone’s suspicions about whether a student looks drunk.  It’s in the chips:  Students are offered a bag containing poker chips, between 25-45 percent of which are marked.  Draw a marked chip, take a Breathalyzer.

Germantown Principal Joel Farren, who was quoted in the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, says it’s “not about us trying to ‘get’ the students.  It’s about us telling them:  ‘Don’t do it here. This is a learning environment.’”  Farren added that parents love the policy.

Reviews are mixed in other areas that follow this policy, though.  Parental criticism ranges from invasion of privacy to outright distrust; some question how a school system that expects students to act like adults doesn’t seem to treat them as such at dances.  What’s surprising, though, is that many students seem to accept Breathalyzer policies, saying it’s a case of schools enforcing their own rules at their own events.

Regardless of where people stand on them, Breathalyzer policies are popping up nationwide. And they do appear to be  somewhat effective.  Principal Farren said that 17 students were expelled during the 2005-2006 school year for either drinking or showing up drunk to school-sponsored events.  However, since the Breathalyzer tests have been put in place, Farren says that nobody has been caught with alcohol on his or her breath at an event.

Does that mean that students who want to drink won’t find a way?  Of course not.  But if the goal is to have a deterrent, it’s working.  And one thing that’s undisputed in all of this is the law itself:  If you’re not 21, it doesn’t matter where you’re going; you can’t legally drink anyway.

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