School board hopefuls split on alcohol wands
Devices may not be the best way, some say, while others say they promote safety.
By Brielle Schaeffer, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
October 3, 2012
The seven candidates for the school board differ about whether alcohol wands are the best way to deter students from drinking.
Though the long-debated wand policy will be decided before the election, candidate opinions about the devices give insight to their approach to drinking by students. And the district’s use of wands may come back before the board.
Three of seven candidates oppose using the alcohol sensor devices at voluntary school functions. The other candidates either favor the policy or chose not to comment.
Voters will choose four board members at the Nov. 6 general election. School board members take office Dec. 3.
Incumbent Kate Mead and hopefuls Joe Larrow and Zia Yasrobi oppose using wands. Candidates Syd Elliott and Jay Varley support the policy. Patricia A. Russell said she didn’t have enough information to decide, but she said she is curious to see how the wands work out. Incumbent board Chairwoman Robbi Farrow would not comment.
The Teton County School District No. 1 Board of Education is set to approve the alcohol sensor device policy Oct. 10 after more than a year of debating the question.
Parents petitioned the board in June 2011 to look into the devices.
The policy inspired a big discussion among school board members and parents about parental versus school responsibility, proper civics lessons and student safety.
All candidates, save Farrow, said underage drinking is a problem, especially in Teton County’s resort culture.
Mead has opposed using the devices since the beginning, saying that policing kids is the role of parents.
“I do not want our teachers and admin people to have to do the job of law enforcement,” she said in an email. “And parents have a huge role to play. It is the parents who watch their kids head out the door to a dance.”
Larrow agreed. Screening students for alcohol is the family’s responsibility, he said.
“Policing irresponsible behavior after the fact is not going to solve the real issue,” he said. “Encouraging and rewarding students for responsible behavior should be a community effort. Just waving a magic wand will not solve this problem.”
Another wand opponent, Yasrobi, said schools should focus on educating, not policing.
“No legislation has ever given public schools law enforcement authority, and for any school to assume such a role is outside the scope of their responsibilities as educators,” he said in an email.
Schools should teach students about the dangers of alcohol “rather than ... putting in place costly measures that are difficult to enforce in a fair and legal manner.”
Candidates in support of screening students said stopping underage drinking should be a community effort and wands will protect student safety.
“The issue needs to be resolved with collaboration of both school district and parents working toward a common goal of reducing the problem,” Elliott said in an email.
She said that if the policy is approved she hopes it will deter students from attending events under the influence.
The wand would protect the safety of all students, Varley said.
“Having young people who have been drinking allowed into these school functions puts other people at risk, especially because of the drinking and driving issue for drivers, passengers, pedestrians and other vehicles,” he said.
In that way, the wands are promoting the right lesson, Varley said.
The primary lesson the screening devices teach are that “my rights end where your’s begin,” he said.
A drunken teen does not have a right to enter a school function, he said, because other teens have a right to attend an alcohol-free event.
While Russell does not have a firm stand on the issue, she said schools are responsible for protecting students.
“If a student is suspected of being under the influence of an illegal substance, it is [the school’s] duty to follow through using the legal tools afforded to them,” she said.
But she worries the wands may keep students prone to drinking away from dances but not from alcohol, Russell said.
Board chairwoman Farrow chose not to comment on the matter because she will be voting on it. Farrow voted for the policy at the board’s August meeting.
The proposed alcohol wand policy is still open for public comment.
People can comment by contacting Michele Doyle at the school district at firstname.lastname@example.org or at P.O. Box 568 Jackson, WY 83001.
The written public comment period closes Oct. 9, but people can talk to the board in person at its Oct. 10 meeting.