Although there will be no Breathalyzers at Lawrence high schools' homecoming dances tonight, there's no doubt school officials will be on heightened alert for students who arrive at the events under the influence of alcohol.
The community's awareness of this problem was raised earlier this year by reports that large numbers of students at a Free State High School dance had been drinking. Three students were caught and suspended for being intoxicated, but students attending the dance said many more could have been punished.
School Supt. Randy Weseman has taken a hard line on this issue, saying that Breathalyzer testing would be instituted to screen students who had been drinking and turn them away from school events. The testing equipment wasn't obtained in time for use at tonight's Free State and Lawrence High School homecoming dances, but students will be subjected to additional scrutiny, including a patrol by four, rather than the usual two, police officers at the events.
Schools are stepping up their vigilance concerning teen and alcohol, but what about parents? School officials interviewed for articles in Friday's Journal-World made the valid point that "it's bigger than what goes on at school. This is a community issue that has to involve parents."
In some cases, students are obtaining alcohol at home, sometimes even with their parents' knowledge. We expect a lot from our schools, but if parents decide to allow or at least overlook their children's consumption of alcohol, how can we expect schools to solve the problem?
"The schools are doing their part," said Charlie Kuszmaul project coordinator for the WRAP program, which places support counselors in all of Lawrence's high schools and junior highs. "But keeping kids from drinking at the dances doesn't mean they're going to stop drinking. It just means they won't go to the dance, or they'll wait until after the dance."
Getting drunk isn't the only effect drinking has on teens. Young people who are intoxicated are far more likely to be involved in traffic accidents or date rape situations. Parents and the community are doing Lawrence teenagers no favor by overlooking this problem.
A number of common sense suggestions for parents of teenagers appeared in Friday's Journal-World. Among them were strategies for parents to monitor a child's whereabouts and clearly state their expectations for a child's behavior. If you want to make absolutely sure your teen isn't one of those showing up drunk at a dance or skipping the dance to drink elsewhere, come and see for yourself, one school official said. Parents are welcome any time.
According to the staffer who oversees drug and alcohol prevention efforts in the district, 42.9 percent of Free State seniors indicated in a survey last year that they had consumed five or more alcoholic drinks in a single sitting at least once in the previous two weeks. This year, that figure dropped to 42.2 percent, but that's well above the state average of 36.6 percent.
Are the students exaggerating the problem because they are trying to rattle administrators or because it's cool to say you drink more than you do? It's possible, but failing to take students at their word on this dangerous issue could have disastrous results.
Lawrence teenagers are a smart, creative, fun-loving bunch. We owe them our best effort to keep them safe and healthy.