Principal Rukstad seeks way to encourage sobriety

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Elad Gov-Ari

RBHS has seen an increase of intoxicated students at school dances as compared to previous years, principal Dr. Jennifer Rukstad said.
In an attempt to prevent such instances from occurring at future dances, Columbia Public Schools (CPS) administration began to explore the idea of installing breathalyzers at the doors of prom and potentially the courtwarming dance.
No decision has been made and both logistical and practical aspects of the possible prevention method are still in assessment.
“Frankly, the conversation right now is happening between me and the superintendent and the director of safety and security, and they are also talking with the school board,” Dr. Rukstad said. “So all of these things are connected; it’s not just my decision. It’s not our school’s decision. We are an entity of Columbia Public Schools and the Columbia community and so any decisions we make on this must fit not only board policy but also be something that our community supports.”
With conversations over potential solutions in place, the RBHS principal would have hoped the stakes of prevention wouldn’t have to go so far.
“My personal approach is [that] I’m very against this kind of thing. . . I would like to believe that students would be compelled by so many other things to not [drink at dances]. I have been proven wrong multiple times,” Dr. Rukstad said.  “We say it. . . we show it and we let the message be known; it is not okay to come to dances under the influence. And yet, we continue to do it. So, my personal feelings about how I think about these things are based on a set of assumptions that may or may not be true. So I have had to shift my own thinking in that appealing to kind of logic or appealing to a sense of responsibility to one’s school or the adults in one’s school or the safety of my friends is probably not realistic.”
Taking into account what school dances “should be” and with the trajectory of intoxicated students on the rise, Student Council President Dalton Nunamaker thinks the breathalyzers could be a practical and powerful method of prevention.
“I personally think that if people knew that to get into a dance they’d be subject to these breathalyzer tests, it would definitely deter them from [showing up intoxicated],” Nunamaker said. “At the least it would deter the students who were showing up drunk because that was really the problem. The problem isn’t underage drinking, which is a whole problem within itself. [The problem is] the liability risk for the school of having a bunch of drunk teenagers that can get in trouble on school grounds at a school function.”
Despite Dr. Rukstad and Nunamaker’s developed opinions, CPS community relations director Michelle Baumstark said the issue is too new to be properly explained or debated.
“There isn’t much to share at this point.  There has been no decision or even a discussion in-depth enough to answer any [questions],” Baumstark said. “There was one short meeting where the idea, which I believe originated with RBHS Student Council, was brought up.  That’s it.  No decision, no further discussion since that time.”
Finally, Dr. Rukstad said the potential precaution is more of a discouragement than a means of catching students. With kids knowing of a breathalyzer, she hopes they will show up sober. That’s not to say, however, that consequences would not be enforced.
“It’s absolutely a prevention thing,” Dr. Rukstad said. “But if we use it as prevention, it will also be enforcement. So if we get to the place where we’re ready to use them, then everybody will know it well ahead of time, and it will not be a surprise.”