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Glitz, glam and breath tests at Waukesha West prom

Waukesha West continues alcohol testing at this weekend's prom

May 9, 2012

David Towers doesn't want to put a damper on anyone's fun. But by implementing breath tests at school dances at Waukesha West, he wants to avoid problems.

"It's just about being proactive," said Towers, whose students at Waukesha West will be randomly tested with Breathalyzers when they arrive this weekend at theMarriott West Hotel in Waukesha for prom. "We want to prevent people from making poor decisions."

Towers, who is in his first year as West's principal, brought the concept to West from Germantown High School where he served as an assistant principal, interim associate principal and associate principal from July 2006 to July 2011.

There were problems the years prior with alcohol, so Germantown started implementing the breath tests.

When students arrive for dances at Germantown High School they pick a poker chip out of a bag. The chips are either yellow or blue (the school's colors). If they pull out a certain color, they have to go through the breath test. If they pull out the other color, they can enter the dance.

If they are caught drinking at school-sponsored events or have alcohol on their breaths, students are suspended and could face expulsion. Before he left last summer, Towers said no student had tested positive for alcohol since Germantown started the testing about five years ago.

Towers has implemented that same program at West; but instead of yellow and blue chips, they are blue and white (West's school colors). If students pull a white chip out, they have to blow into the Breathalyzer. If they pull out a blue one, they can enter the dance immediately.

However, Towers said if any administrator suspects that a student might have alcohol on their breaths as they are arriving to the dance, they would have to blow into the Breathalyzer as well, regardless of the color chip they pull out.

Towers said breath tests began at Waukesha West's Sadie Hawkins Dance in February and were also implemented at its Rave Dance in March. The students take the breath tests when they check in at the dances. Towers said the portable breath alcohol screeners are provided by the Waukesha Police Department and administered by the school's resource officer.

Towers made the decision to begin administering the tests at West when he said some students made "poor choices" at the Homecoming Dance last fall.

"We had some issues at Homecoming where we (administrators) said afterward, 'Why not do it?' " Towers said. "It's a no-brainer and it's something that's available as a resource and it's a way to prevent these types of issues."

The principal said students are told ahead of time to expect random testing and said most parents and students have been supportive.

Towers said some students have fun with the breath tests and don't mind them. He explained that he's had students at both Germantown and West who have come up to him after the dance complaining that they wanted to be given the breath test.

So far, there has been a 100 percent success rate at the first two dances, as Towers hasn't seen anyone register - a number he would like to see continue.

"While we can't control what they do after the dance, we want to make sure they're safe while they are at the dance and under our watch," Towers said.

Towers said he could see more schools begin using breath tests at school dances.

"When I was at Germantown, Franklin contacted us on the issue as well as other schools," Towers said. "It's something that seems to make sense as this can prevent poor decisions from happening - decisions that could lead to other consequences that affect their education or their lives."

So will the other two Waukesha high schools follow West?

Waukesha South's prom was last weekend and Waukesha North's is May 19 at the Marcus Center for Performing Arts in Milwaukee. Right now, both of those schools don't implement random Breathalyzer tests.

But Waukesha South Principal Mike Nowak and Waukesha North Principal Jody Landish are aware of what Towers is doing at West.

"We are considering moving in the direction of breath tests in future years," said Nowak, who added South has a number of adults at the dances who are on the lookout for unusual behavior or signs of alcohol.

"At North, we areinvestigating and gathering further information about this, in order to make a clear and concise decision," Landish added.

Nonetheless, Landish said she is happy with the way her school dances are going.

"Our proms have beenwonderful gatherings over the past several years, but we are always looking for ways to communicate and be proactive with keeping our kids safe and enjoying their prom and school experience," Landish said.

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