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Drunken dancing not allowed at Park City High

Published October 30, 2010 2:03 pm

Testing • Do random Breathalyzer tests violate the Fourth Amendment?
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

In Park City, before you can dance, you must exhale.

Students can enter Park City High School dances only after taking a Breathalyzer test.

The program, intended to keep school activities safe and send a message to teens, has been in place for about five years, said Tom Van Gorder, the Park City School District's director of student services.

"At this point, we Breathalyze every kid coming to a dance," he said. "They know they can't drink before a dance."

In some states, the American Civil Liberties Union has challenged the practice of "suspicionless" tests as a violation of the Fourth Amendment ban on illegal searches. Without probable cause, such tests violate the Fourth Amendment's ban of illegal search and seizure, said Darcy Goddard, legal director of the ACLU of Utah.

Recently, Portland Public Schools in Oregon dropped its mandatory Breathalyzer program after the issue was raised by the ACLU.

But nobody in Utah has complained to her agency, Goddard said. And without a complaint, it's unlikely the Utah ACLU would make a case.

"We have been very consistent challenging suspicionless testing of high school students," she said. "Whenever you subject a person to a test of what is going on in their body, it constitutes a search."

Although Park City High's recent Homecoming Dance was held at a Deer Valley lodge, the Breathalyzer program was in use.

"If it's a school-sponsored activity, it's like being on the school grounds," Van Gorder said.

Van Gorder said use of drugs and alcohol by Park City students probably is no more pronounced than elsewhere.

"We're just like any other place," he said. "We have issues that we are aware of. You can't just stick your heads in the sand."

There was a time in Park City when underage drinking was considered a fact of life. David Hampshire, the former editor of the town's newspaper, recalls launching an unofficial program in 1984 in which adults would volunteer to chauffeur students on high school graduation night. The program lasted for about 12 years.

"We saw it as a community service, to keep high school kids off the roads that night," Hampshire said Friday. "We started it at The Park Record."

But the chauffeur program was not without controversy. Some saw it as giving youngsters a green light to drink.

"That did more to bring it to a halt than anything," Hampshire said.

Dale Cohen, the secretary of the Park City High Parent Teacher Student Organization, said that kind of tolerance is frowned upon these days.

"Everything I have heard from parents has been positive," she said about the Breathalyzer policy. "The community really wants to keep alcohol out of the hands of students."

The Breathalyzer also is on hand at Park City High's home football games. It is used if faculty members observe student behavior that they believe to be related to alcohol.

"The Breathalyzer is a deterrent and is for the safety of everybody involved," Van Gorder said.

Stephen Hart, who graduated from Park City High in 2006, said he was a senior when the program was instituted.

"We were told in advance there would be random Breathalyzers," he said. "Some people stopped going. They didn't think it would be any fun going to a dance sober."

None of the Granite, Jordan or Canyons school districts employs such a program.

"Drinking really is not a problem" at Jordan School District events, said spokesman Steve Dunham.

Students at Jordan schools are well aware of district policies forbidding drugs and alcohol. Police officers and faculty watch for students who behave as if they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

"The kids are very cautious about it," he said. "They know they'll get caught."

The Canyons District approaches school activities in much the same way, said spokeswoman Jennifer Toomer-Cook.

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