The school has purchased breathalyzers for the security department to keep students safe when it suspects they are intoxicated, Head of Upper School Audrius Barzdukas said.
“[The breathalyzers] are there as a tool that’s nice to have if you need them,” Barzdukas said.
The school security guards, who work for a third party company hired by the school, are not randomly screening students on campus and at school events, Head of Security Jim Crawford said.
The security guards only use the breathalyzers if there is a need for them or if one of the administrators tells them there is reason to believe that a student has been drinking.
Since they were purchased at the start of the school year, the breathalyzers have been used during a school dance and at a boys’ basketball game. At the dance, one or more faculty members saw a student who had objective symptoms of being inebriated, Crawford said. At the basketball game, parents asked the school to use a breathalyzer on their own child, Barzdukas said.
“[The school is] always trying to figure out what is the right thing to do to help kids be safe and have a great experience without creating a culture or environment that feels oppressive,” Barzdukas said. “We’re worried about someone getting behind the wheel of a car or leaving an event in a certain condition.”
Some students have a problem with the breathalyzers because they were not aware of their presence on campus.
“Unrelated to whether or not the school should have them, if they do and they have been used, it is essential for the students to be aware,” Javi Arango ’16 said. “As long as the students are told that there are going to be breathalyzers on campus and know that they are eligible to be tested, then it is a fair policy.”
The American Civil Liberties Union has supported public school students around the country in complaints and lawsuits claiming that the use of breathalyzers is an invasion of privacy. In Rhode Island, for example, the ACLU criticized a school proposal to use a breathalyzer on every student attending a dance. However, the ACLU does not oppose policies that call for testing upon reasonable suspicion that a student was impaired, which is what Harvard-Westlake does.
Because Harvard-Westlake is a private school, laws and regulations on breathalyzer policies at public schools do not apply.
Private school administrators have the authority to set policies that students agree to when they enroll.
“I see how on the one hand it is an invasion of privacy, but on the other hand, by following the rules of the school and signing the honor code, we are consenting to follow their behavioral guidelines,” Cameron Cohen ’16 said.
The student handbook forbids anyone from using, selling or possessing drugs or alcohol on campus, or while traveling to or from campus or at any school function, including school-sponsored trips and occasions when one is representing the school.
The handbook also reserves the right for the school to impose discipline and penalties at its discretion.
As a private school, Harvard-Westlake maintains the right to establish and enforce policies as well as the right to ask students to leave, Chief Financial Officer Rob Levin said. The difference between someone coming into your house and searching you and at school is that at a private school, people voluntarily entered a community and agreed to abide by the rules, he said.
“The school has defensible interest in protecting the wellbeing of the entire student body, and it can say that having somebody who is intoxicated is disruptive to the wellbeing of other students,” Levin said. “That being the case, we want to provide insurance that that doesn’t happen. Therefore, if we have reasonable concern, we can ask somebody to submit a breath sample.”
If there is reason to believe that there is a situation where someone might get hurt or do something potentially dangerous or harmful, the school has an obligation to do something about it, Barzdukas said.
Upon confirming that the rules have been violated, and that a student has been drinking at school or at a school event, the disciplinary process is conducted using principles rather than strict guidelines. Each case is looked at individually.
The school is trying to balance the rights of the individual with its responsibility to create a safe community, Levin said.
“You have to deal with these things in your life,” Levin said. “Everybody has to make their own decisions. Alcohol, pot, anything else in their life. We are trying to say that you don’t have to make that decision here. [Those things] are not going to be in your face here.”