A new policy adopted in late July will authorize trained district police officers to use a preliminary breath test (PBT) on students. Having the PBTs at their disposal will help district-employed police officers when trying to determine if a student is under the influence of alcohol. In the past, officers had to resort either to examinations such as the “pencil test,” where they instruct the detainee to follow a pencil with their eyes, or contact local police forces.
The PBTs will be allowed at any location where school sponsored activities are being held. Before testing a student the officer must have probable cause, which could be determined by how the student is acting or even their breath.
“I just think the time has come where we have to get real tough on this,” Principal Karl Krawitz said. “I’m glad it’s happening… it’s well due.”
Punishment for students failing or refusing the PBT will be handled individually on a case-by-case basis, but the failing of a PBT will automatically result in a five-day minimum out of school suspension and could extend up to ten days depending on the incident’s severity. Dr. Krawitz is also in favor of suspending those students from school activities such as sporting events and dances for several weeks.
Superintendent Gene Johnson believes that disciplinary actions could be worse for students who supply alcohol to others and not just themselves. Not only could students face disciplinary action from the district, but also from the city and county, respectively.
The district will be documenting each incident where the PBT is used. Also, the district will provide local authorities with any information of illegal behavior they might uncover.
“The school district is required by law to communicate any violations of the law or potential violations of the law to the police department,” Dr. Johnson said. “We will be following the law, period.”
Don Hymer of the Johnson County District Attorney’s office said that students over the age of 18 would face legal action from the city while the county would deal with students under 18 years old in the juvenile court system. Hymer holds that the district’s actions are completely legal.
Senior Jordan Pfeiffer believes the district has the right idea. East lost four students last year to what Dr. Krawitz called at a beginning of the year assembly “poor decision making,” and Pfeiffer knows the administration doesn’t want that to happen again. Another concern Pfeiffer has is that students under the influence of alcohol might misrepresent East at sporting events.
“I think its somewhat of a good thing just because, I think, drinking before school or most athletic events is pretty stupid,” Pfeiffer said. “I mean, we need to respect our athletes who are on the field or on the court.”
While Pfeiffer understands the districts concerns, he is wary of what might happen if the policy is abused.
“If they’re really thinking about sticking to this [policy] then they’re going to offend some people and I think they’re going to start [using the PBT] a lot more often,” Pfeiffer said.
The PBT is sometimes incorrectly referred to as a “breathalyzer.” A PBT is much smaller and more mobile than a breathalyzer, but also is not as accurate. Because the accuracy of the PBT could vary slightly, they are not allowed in U.S. District Courts, according to Detective Brady Sullivan. The PBTs that will be used by the district can, however, detect the presence of alcohol, which is all that is necessary if the student is underage.
Each school is given a Student Resource Officer (SRO), a law enforcement agent from the local municipality, and either one or two district police officers. The district’s officers are trained like local police officers, but the district, not the local municipality, employ them.
In the past, SROs have had the authority to use PBTs and even breathalyzers, a larger machine used for testing a person’s blood alcohol content, on any person under the umbrella of probable cause. The district felt its own police force should have access to PBT use because SROs generally do not attend many of the after-school events the district officers are required to attend.
JICH, the district’s drug and alcohol policy, has been around for years and Superintendent Gene Johnson believes that adding in PBTs will give district officers another tool to use. Dr. Johnson said that the district has not had any large problems with underage drinking in recent years and no such problems were the basis for enacting the new policy.
“There’s concern all over the United States about underage drinking,” Dr. Johnson said. “Its not just Shawnee Mission or Blue Valley or Kansas City, Missouri.”
USA Today reported that KNH Solutions, a company that specializes in commercial breathalyzers, saw a 120 percent increase in profits each year between 2003 and 2007.
Nearby Blue Valley School District enacted a policy authorizing the use of PBTs in 2001. Dennis McCarthy, Director of Safety and Security for the Blue Valley School District, said that the policy has not increased the number of alcohol-related disciplinary reports. He believes the use of a PBT is more for the benefit of a non-drinker rather than for the purposes of getting someone in trouble.
“I think it actually works in the favor of those who, for whatever reason, maybe suspected of being under the influence but actually are not,” McCarthy said. “I think it’s more of a protective function rather than a disciplinary one.”