It's disappointing, though perhaps not surprising, to learn that attendance at high school dances in Lawrence has declined since measures were taken to screen students for alcohol use.
School board members were told Monday that a new policy that requires students to pass a Breathalyzer test before entering school dances had drastically cut down on the crowds. Some dances even have been canceled for lack of interest.
That's unfortunate, but the school district can't back down on this policy. If there is some middle ground to be found on this issue, school officials should seek it, but the district should stand firm in its decision not to sanction underage drinking by allowing students who have consumed alcohol into school events.
Under the current policy, students must blow into a monitor that detects alcohol before entering the dance. Those who have a positive test must take another test to measure the level of alcohol. Those who have been drinking are banned from school-sponsored events for a year and may be suspended or expelled from school.
No student has tested positive for alcohol since the policy was implemented, but the assumption is that many students are simply bypassing dances and going elsewhere to consume alcohol.
Interestingly, it appears it's still possible to attract students to some events. Although only 100 students attended the Lawrence High School homecoming dance, the winter formal drew 550. Last year's prom also was a success, schools reported. It seems students are willing to abide by the alcohol policy if the event is important enough.
Students interviewed by the Journal-World had mixed reactions to the new policy. They pointed out, for instance, that students still could get away with using other intoxicating substances. That may be true, but that doesn't mean school districts shouldn't screen for alcohol use. Another student said the schools "should trust students enough to make the decision not to come to dances intoxicated." That would be nice, but a number of occurrences in which students didn't show that good judgment is what led to the current policy.
The school district can't stop students from using alcohol or other intoxicants. Accomplishing that goal is a much broader job that involves not only the good judgment of students but of their families and other authority figures. What schools can do, however, is to send a message by setting a standard of behavior for students at school events. To look the other way while drunken students fill the high school gym sends the message that such behavior is OK. It's not, and Lawrence school officials are doing the right thing by saying so.