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Nyack School Board Rethinks Breathalyzer Testing For Students

James Montesano James Montesano
James Montesano Photo Credit: Tina Traster
Ken Sharp Ken Sharp
Ken Sharp Photo Credit: Tina Traster
Indigo Golub Indigo Golub
Indigo Golub Photo Credit: Tina Traster
Heather Graham Heather Graham
Heather Graham Photo Credit: Tina Traster

NYACK, N.Y. – Responding to vehement opposition Tuesday night from parents and students, Nyack School Board officials took a breath, tabling a controversial plan to breathalyze students suspected of being inebriated on school property or at school events.

This was the fifth time the topic was on the school board’s meeting agenda. Community members presumed the board had all but decided to go forward and pass a resolution. In a surprise turnaround, board trustees admitted they’d heard fresh arguments that gave them pause.

Several parents raised legal arguments, while a handful of eloquent students warned the board breathalyzers would create a culture of fear and distrust.

“I know this is the fifth meeting, so I know what I’m saying may be a Hail Mary pass,” said Ken Sharp, a Valley Cottage resident who has two daughters in the high school. “This policy makes students feel as if they are not trusted and respected. Wouldn’t it be better to address this problem by teaching kids to make the right choices?”

The district’s testing policy says students will be tested when there is reasonable suspicion a student, or a student’s guest at an event, is under the influence of alcohol. Several parents took issue with the criteria.

The list includes red, watery, glassy or bloodshot eyes, being inordinately jovial while talking, odor of alcohol on breath, slurred speech, impaired motor skills, and other behaviors.

“The standard is reasonable suspicion,” one parent said. “But the criteria includes being combative or overly jovial. That describes my child most days of the week.”

As the policy reads now, suspected students would be asked to submit to a breathalyzer test. If the student tests positive, a second test will be given ten minutes later. If a second test is positive, district officials will call the student’s parents and ask them to collect their child. A student who admits to, or tests positive, will be subject to disciplinary action, which may include suspension.

But there’s a rub. A student who is not drunk but refuses the test will be subjected to a disciplinary hearing. So a student who is drunk would have good incentive to refuse a test because either way he would be subject to a disciplinary hearing. Without a positive result, though, the district would have less evidence.

Asked whether there was heightened worry about the use of alcohol in the district, Superintendent James Montesano said there was not. It is unclear why the district is so eager to impose this policy, but the superintendent said “It’s about safety and wellness.”

If approved, Nyack would be the first in the Hudson Valley to do so.

“This is not being well-received at all,” said High School student Indigo Golub. “Do we have an issue with substance abuse? Something that needs to change? Maybe more education on this is needed.”

High school student Heather Graham agreed, pointedly adding, “This won’t keep kids from drinking. It will just change the way they do it.”

David Novick, a Westchester police officer, and a parent of three students, questioned the legality of the policy and raised concerns over whether administrators would be properly trained to use breathalyzers.

Novick proposed a scenario in which a kid is at a football game and a parent is there with them, and the district wants to breathalyze the kid. “What if I refuse to let my kid take the test?” he asked.

Montesano said that when students are at a school event they are in the district’s charge. When the discussion got heated, the superintendent added, “If you want to sue us, you have every right to do that.”

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