Party planners face sobering decision: Whether to test students for alcohol

High school parents are grappling over whether senior students should be tested for alcohol as they enter this year’s post-graduation party.

“A lot of parents feel like if we do the Breathalyzers, maybe all of the seniors won’t attend,” said Lisa Werner, a Free State High School parent who is helping organize Project Graduation. “Of course, we want as many kids that can to attend.”

“It doesn’t matter whether or not you’re a teen drinker,” said Anna Callan, parent and co-chair of the event. “If you want to come to our party, you have to come sober.”

The annual party, for graduating seniors at all four public and private high schools in Lawrence, is thrown by volunteer parents and will be May 23 at Abe & Jake’s Landing, 8 E. Sixth St. Prizes, dances, games and food are provided at the party, which is intended to give students a safe place to celebrate their graduation drug- and alcohol-free.

Parent organizers said they’re having an important debate and researching the issue before deciding whether seniors will have to prove their sobriety ahead of the party.

“We’re trying to create an environment that is safe for the children, yet they’re trying to break the rules, so by doing this enforcing we’re creating this lack of attendance,” said Debbie McCarthy, a parent. “We’re darned if we do and we’re darned if we don’t.”

Some parents said there’s been a resistance to the alcohol tests from students, after a policy was adopted by the Lawrence school district in 2005 that requires Breathalyzers to be given at all school dances. Project Graduation is not a school-sponsored event and does not fall under the same restrictions.

But others said students have grown accustomed to them and if they know about the tests, they won’t make plans to get drunk before coming.

There are also concerns about the expense of the Breathalyzer machines, whether using them would hold up the line to get into the party, and whether there would be any liabilities that come with using or not using the machines.

Some parents have suggested the idea of testing students on their way out of the bar, so that students don’t drive home intoxicated if they do find a way to cheat the system.