Havre Daily News
What's that on your breath? Havre Public School administrators will soon know for sure. The district has purchased a breath-alcohol detector for Havre High School.
“We had quite a few incidents of kids drinking and coming to school last year, so we were thinking of ways we could more accurately identify those kids,” Havre High School assistant principal Jerry Vandersloot said today.
The device is different from a Breathalyzer in that it doesn't provide a precise blood-alcohol concentration, Superintendent Kirk Miller told the Havre school board Tuesday. The device, a PAS Systems International Inc. passive alcohol detector, determines the presence of alcohol and gives a range of concentrations.
The detector will be on display as early as this week in the Havre High School west foyer and will be in use after Nov. 21, Miller said. Similar devices are in use in five other school districts in Montana, he said.
Vandersloot said he used alcohol detectors when he was a school principal in Roundup. After several months of research, Vandersloot said, the HPS administration decided the device would help in Havre.
The device looks like a flashlight. According to the company's Web site, it can be used by law enforcement as a way to detect the presence of alcohol without a subject's knowledge and can establish probable cause for an alcohol-related arrest.
That won't be the way the device will be used in Havre, Miller said. The device will be displayed and students will be introduced to it so they know what it is. HPS policy dictates that it can only be used after suspicion of alcohol use is established, Miller added.
“We'll be demonstrating for kids who are curious what it is,” Vandersloot said. “We'll be sure they know how we'll be conducting this.”
When students at school are suspected of having consumed alcohol, the current detection method is to have them blow in the face of the principal, Miller said.
“It's embarrassing for students to have to dothis,” he said, adding that it can be a health risk to administrators. “Rather than blow in the face of the principal, they'll blow into this device that looks like a flashlight.”
Miller said the technology could work to the benefit of the student, removing the guesswork of determining whether he or she has been drinking.
Language describing how the alcohol sensor will be used was included in administrative policies and presented to the board Tuesday by director of personnel Karla Wohlwend.
HPS board member Todd Hanson said he thought the policy describing a case where a student refused to use the device was vague.
“If the student refuses to submit to testing for the presence of alcohol, the District may rely on other evidence of alcohol consumption in determining whether District policy has been violated,” the policy reads.
Hanson said he wanted to know what “other evidence” means.
“That seems extremely nebulous and vague. Is that intentional, or should we flesh that out?” he said.
Miller said the language was vague, but legal. It takes into account evidence such as a student who is stumbling or exhibiting other signs of intoxication.
Board member Joe Marino wanted to be sure the device could not give a faulty reading. He wondered if hand sanitizer used by the administrator taking a reading could give a positive result. He also worried that a student suffering from diabetes could accidentally give signs of being drunk and, not having consumed any alcohol, test positive for it with such a sensor.
Miller said the device was being tested by the administration and would continue to be, to eliminate the possibility of a false positive reading. In the case of a diabetic student, Miller said, school administrators could be relied on to take into account the health history of students.
Miller took note of both of Marino's concerns and said he'd be sure they were addressed.
District director of operations Ric Floren said having the detector on hand introduces “the fringe benefit of deterrence.”
Miller said the detector could be taken to Havre Middle School or any other school if there was suspicion of alcohol consumption there.