With little public notice, a few school districts around the country, from Indiana to Connecticut to Long Island, have begun to integrate breath-testing devices into the regular school day, a move that adds a new wrinkle to the ongoing struggle between students’ privacy rights and a school’s duty to limit drug and alcohol abuse. Schools say they need to ensure that no students are drinking in class. The New York Times reports that manufacturers of breath analyzers say they have sold their devices to thousands of schools across the country, but it is impossible to say how many districts have started using breath-alcohol tests during the school day.
Officials with the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the National School Boards Association said they knew of no statistics tracking schools’ use of breath analyzers. But lawyers who argue cases involving students’ civil liberties said that tests during the school day are rare, and represent untested ground for most districts. For years, schools across the country have deployed breath analyzers at proms, pep rallies and other after-school events to catch students who arrived drunk or smuggled in alcohol. After some resistance and fevered debate, student advocates and even lawyers gradually came to accept that schools were within their rights to use every means to ensure that students were not toting six-packs and liquor bottles to after-school, night and weekend events.