For the first time, students attending the Saratoga Springs High School junior-senior prom at the Saratoga Springs City Center on May 14 will have to go through a passive alcohol sensor as they enter.
Superintendent Janice White of the Saratoga Springs City School District said the passive alcohol sensor is not the traditional breathalyzer used by police to measure the amount of alcohol a person has consumed. She said the box-like passive sensor device is held up near a student’s face and the student is asked a simple question, like his or her name and homeroom.
As the person speaks, the passive sensor has a light that blinks on if alcohol is detected, White said.
“It’s not a definitive proof,” White said. She said it is a tool school officials can use to further check if a student has been drinking.
The city school district has zero tolerance regarding alcohol use at any school function.
In March, the high school disciplined 21 students for alcohol use in connection with a “Winter Casual” dance held in a high school gym. Two students were taken to Saratoga Hospital after the March 4 dance with alcohol-related problems. They were treated and released.
City police said at the time it appeared the alcohol was consumed off-campus. The incident remains under investigation by city police.
High school Principal Brett Miller said in March that school officials use a variety of methods to tell if a student has been drinking alcohol. He said these methods sometimes include the use of a passive alcohol sensor.
White said on Tuesday that the city school district has used a passive alcohol sensor in past years at some school dances but not as a screening device for every student entering an event.
After the March drinking incident at the high school on West Avenue, city school district officials met with city police Chief Christopher Cole and members of the Prevention Council of Saratoga County to discuss ways to address the problem.
White said Miller taught in the Bethlehem Central School District and the passive alcohol sensor was used in that district with a positive, preventative effect.
The passive alcohol sensors are also used in the Averill Park Central School District, White said.
“We are not trying to catch students,” White said about the use of the sensors. “We want to send a real clear message” that the junior-senior prom and other school dances are alcohol-free events, White said.
The district will also be having those attending the prom check their coats and items such as backpacks or large purses in the coat check area.
This will discourage any students planning to bring containers of alcohol into the prom.
“We will make sure this area [the city center’s coat check area] is well supervised,” White said.
She said Miller recommended the alcohol-screening measures and she and the district Board of Education agreed with the recommendation.
Miller sent letters to parents of high school students late last week explaining the new policy.
Passive alcohol senors will be used prior to and during all school dances starting with the junior-senior prom, he said.
In his letter to parents, Miller says that if it is determined that a student has been drinking, his or her parents will be called and “disciplinary consequences will follow in accordance with the district code of conduct.”