One student suspected of being drunk at a Dakota Ridge High School volleyball game on Oct. 9 resulted in up to 20 students being administered Breathalyzer tests, leaving some parents less than pleased.
The parent of one of the tested students who hadn’t been drinking was furious that her son was subjected to the breath test, saying school officials had no evidence that he had ingested alcohol.
"Why do they have the right to do that?" asked the woman, who didn't want to be identified for fear of retribution. "I think it's absolutely crazy."
Three students were issued summonses for underage drinking after the tests were administered.
School principal Jim Jelinek defended the school’s actions.
"We had suspicions that one student had been drinking," Jelinek said. "We started with that one student, and it all went out from there. Lots of kids were tested to see if they were drinking or not."
Jelinek said 15 to 20 students were tested using a portable breath tester. The first student was tested with the school's device, and then retested after sheriff's deputies arrived. Deputies subsequently tested the rest of the students who had been detained by school staff, who were pulled into the investigation through associations with other students involved.
"There's nothing illegal about it," Jeffco sheriff's spokesman Jim Shires said of the testing. He said it's up to the school and deputies to keep children safe, and that testing the entire group of students was reasonable.
"Our concern is, why is anyone, especially in a high school, even suspected of consuming alcohol?" Shires said. "That concerns us a lot."
Jelinek echoed Shires' assessment.
"We have the responsibility of promoting fun but at the same time providing safety and security," Jelinek said.
Jelinek said the detained students could have refused to take the test — but they weren’t informed that they had the right to refuse.
"I just told them that the breath test could easily and quickly determine if they'd been drinking," Jelinek said.
Disciplinary actions for alcohol abuse are outlined in the school's handbook, but the handbook doesn't say students can be subjected to portable breath tests. Jelinek said he's not aware of any district policy regulating how the devices should be used.
"I'm not aware of any district policy on this," Jelinek said. "It's something we've always done here."
District spokeswoman Lynn Setzer said there is no district policy dealing with Breathalyzer tests.
"It's something that we may look at at some point, perhaps draft something on it," Setzer said. She added that the practice is used at several Jeffco schools but couldn't say exactly how many.
Jelinek said he could understand why parents might be upset.
"I could see how it might raise some anxiety, but it's always been used to lower anxiety in students so they can show they haven't been drinking," Jelinek said. "If the district said we couldn't do it, we'd stop."