RBHS to breathalyze every student at prom


Jacob Sykuta

Saturday night, many seniors and their dates will dress fancy, take pictures, eat a formal dinner and then drive to prom to the Hampton Inn and Suites on 1225 Fellows Place. While in the past, students only had to give their ticket and undergo a brief bag check, this year, there will be a new addition to the entrance protocol — blowing into a breathalyzer.
In response to Student Council’s concern over students’ lack of sobriety at school dances, teachers and administrators will breathalyze students upon entry to prom at the hotel.
Columbia Public Schools (CPS) Superintendent Dr. Peter Stiepleman approved the idea to use breathalyzers at prom, RBHS principal Dr. Jennifer Rukstad said. Although Dr. Rukstad tried to promote sobriety through class meetings after the homecoming dance, she still saw the need for further alcohol prevention methods to be taken at prom.
“I made the decision, and then we had to have [the school board’s] blessing,” Dr. Rukstad said. “I went to Dr. Stiepleman before winter break, and we talked about the possibility. Then he ran it by school board members to make sure that there was support, but there was never a formal vote. It was really kind of his decision, but he wanted to make sure he had the backing of the school board.”
After Dr. Stiepleman approved the idea, RBHS administration planned the logistics of how they would use breathalyzers at prom. The breathalyzers will be inside the entrance to the hotel’s conference center, but there will be no separator between students as they will all be a part of the same activity.
Additionally, the administrator will be the only one to see the reading of the breathalyzer, and each “will handle a positive test discreetly,” Dr. Rukstad said. There will be a bag check before admission, along with teacher chaperones inspecting the bathrooms and crowds throughout the dance, Dr. Rukstad said. Every person, student or not, who wants to enter the prom will take a breath test upon entry in order to ensure no person is under the influence of alcohol.
“Everyone who wants to go into the prom [will be breathalyzed,]” Dr. Rukstad said. “There will be four [breathalyzers]. There will be a couple off-duty [police officers] there at prom, as well. They will be away from [the breathalyzing] process, and we will call them in if we need them.”
Students who are part of Missouri State High School Athletic Association (MSHSAA) activities will miss 10 percent of the season they are in if their breathalyzer test is positive, Dr. Rukstad said. If those students are out of season, however, being caught under the influence will not affect their MSHSAA eligibility. For students in the A+ program, if the breathalyzer tests positive, they have to go through the appeals process to renew their citizenship in the program. To fail the breathalyzer test, students need a Blood Alcohol Content over .02.
The immediate consequence for students and guests who fail the breathalyzer test is the same as it would be at all other RBHS dances.
“We will call their parents, and their parents will come get them,” Dr. Rukstad said. “The only way police would be involved is if there was any kind of refusal or resistance or if a student attempts to leave on their own.”
Each breathalyzer costs $129.99, and it costs $199.99 per 500 breathalyzer tubes, Dr. Rukstad said. As for paying the cost of the breathalyzers, the money will come out of the Student Commons fund, which comes from vending machines and other student-raised funds.
At the Battle High School (BHS) prom April 21, the school did not administer the test on every attendee, instead adopting a “search with reasonable suspicion” plan. Hickman High School (HHS) plans to use the same method as BHS at their prom May 5.
Both BHS and HHS principals chose their own procedures, Dr. Rukstad said. RBHS, however, is choosing to breathalyze all persons who wish to enter the dance.
Dan Viets, attorney and president of the Missouri Civil Liberties Association, believes requiring a breathalyzer test as a precondition of admission to RBHS prom is unconstitutional, violating students’ rights guaranteed in the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches.
“It is unreasonable to test every student regardless of whether there is any reason to believe that student has done anything wrong,” Viets said. “If there is no reason to believe either a student has consumed alcohol or is intoxicated, and those two terms are not the same, then that is an unreasonable search.”
In response to the decision of RBHS and CPS, Viets sent a letter April 20 to both RBHS administration and the school board. There was consideration of seeking an injunction, however, which is a judicial order that restrains a person or group from beginning an action that may threaten or invade the legal rights of another person. Viets sent the letter requesting that RBHS administration and the school board reevaluate their decision.
“We may seek an injunction in the future, [but] we have not decided to seek an injunction at this point,” Viets said April 19. “What we are doing is sending a letter to the school board and to the administrators at Rock Bridge, urging them to reconsider this policy.”
After administration caught students and suspected others of being under the influence at the Homecoming dance, Student Council sponsor Kelley Wittenborn knew more action was needed to prevent the student consumption of alcohol at school events. She supports the no-tolerance standpoint administration takes, in part because drinking is “absurd and ridiculous.”
“Rock Bridge students are minors and are not in any way, shape or form entitled to any form of drinking before dances,” Wittenborn said. “Not only is it illegal, but it is unsafe and places an unfair burden on other students, administration and staff who have to monitor and watch out for the behaviors of these students while at these school functions. Drinking at high school events is not acceptable in any quantity, and, therefore, it is perfectly within the right of the school to take a no-tolerance standpoint when students attempt to participate in and attend RBHS events.”
Senior Kevin Kiehne accepts the rationale behind the decision to use breathalyzers at the upcoming dance. Along with sharing some of the same beliefs as Wittenborn, Kiehne understands the liability factor that comes into play.
“I think having breathalyzers at prom is fine. People have always shown up to dances with alcohol, so alcohol definitely influences school dances,” Kiehne said. “It’s become a popular thing for many people to drink alcohol to have more fun. People are going to drink on prom night whether it’s at the dance or after. Rock Bridge just doesn’t want to be accountable for that, so it makes sense that they use breathalyzers to try [to] avoid responsibility.”
In opposition to Kiehne and Wittenborn, however, is Anel Castro. Although a junior, Castro will attend prom as a senior’s guest and believes that while some students made bad decisions at the homecoming dance, most attendees did not.
She thinks RBHS administration is taking away the “freedom with responsibility” from all students, rather than just students who violated that freedom.
“Even when few [students] have shown they are not capable to responsibly make good decisions, the rest and most of the seniors are being punished with being breathalyzed before and after the dance,” Castro said. “I would understand if they were to do it after the dance for safety reasons; however, breathalyzing in the beginning would be taking time out of the special night for all of the seniors.”
Ultimately, no matter how extensive prevention actions are, Wittenborn worries the consumption of alcohol is unavoidable at high school dances because of the difficulty of the task to monitor student behavior while trying to protect personal freedoms that students possess.
“I think with six administrators, a handful of teacher chaperones, and hundreds of students, it’s incredibly challenging to have 100 [percent] success in monitoring illegal or questionable student behavior,” Wittenborn said. “We are trying as hard as we can to find the balance between keeping you safe and protecting your freedoms. We don’t want to punish the whole for the actions of some, but safety must remain a top priority, and that is often a hard balance to find.”
Additional reporting by Grace Dorsey and Rochita Ghosh.