According to the Boston Globe, two Weymouth High School students are suing the Massachusetts local school system in state court over their breathalyzer-related suspensions after a homecoming dance. The students charge that the nine-day suspensions “under the guise of a so-called zero tolerance policy” violated their due process and civil rights.
The Weymouth School Department denies any wrongdoing and won the first court skirmish, convincing a judge not to impose a temporary restraining order (TRO) preventing punishment. “The school district is entitled to a substantial deference in the imposition of discipline,” Judge Kenneth J. Fishman said, denying the motion for a TRO.
The lawsuit has focused attention on the use of breathalyzers in schools as a way to combat student drinking. The practice, however, is not well-documented, according to Massachusetts Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Massachusetts Association of Secondary School Administrators (MASSA). “I don’t know of any data of how prevalent it is, or whether it is increasing or decreasing,” said Richard L. Pearson, MASSA’s Associate Director.
However, Mike Gilbert of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees says breathalyzer use in schools “is not all that common” because “obviously there are legal issues, to ensure that it is done fairly.” He added, “Generally when somebody calls from a school district [asking about breathalyzers], we tell them to have a conversation with their legal counsel.” But Gilbert noted that interest in breathalyzers is increasing.
According to documents filed in court, the incident happened at the November 3, 2012 homecoming dance at Weymouth High School. School officials pulled aside nine students, including Paige Lambert and “Jane Doe,” who are the plaintiffs in the suit, suspected of drinking, and gave them breathalyzer tests. Seven tested positive, including Lambert, who recorded a .038% alcohol level, and Doe, at .028%.
The students were sent home and then suspended for 10 days, which was reduced to nine days after they attended an alcohol counseling class. Their lawsuit contends that being forced to take the breathalyzer test amounted to an unlawful “search and seizure,” and also questions the validity of the results. The suit also criticized the severity of the punishment for what it says was a first offense for both girls.
Weymouth school officials “take their responsibilities as public educators very seriously,” attorney John Davis wrote. “They promulgated rules and regulations designed to keep Weymouth students safe…. The public interest demands that they should not be hamstrung in protecting Weymouth students.”
Source: Boston Globe, 1/30/13, By Johanna Seltz
[Editor's Note: In July 2012, Legal Clips summarized a decision by a Pennsylvania federal district court in Donegan v. Livingston, which granted summary judgment in favor of three district officials, dismissing an instructional aide’s suit that school district officials had violated her First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights when she was detained and subjected to a breathalyzer test. The court concluded that the district officials’ decision regarding the breathalyzer test satisfied the “special needs” exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant and probable cause requirements. The court also rejected the aide’s First and Fourteenth Amendment retaliation claims, because there was no evidence to support her claim that her First Amendment right to freedom of association was violated, and she had abandoned her Fourteenth Amendment claim altogether.
In June 2012, Legal Clips summarized an article in the Post-Bulletin, which reported that parents of a number of graduating seniors at St. Charles High School were considering filing a lawsuit, after their children were given breath tests at school for alcohol consumption. According to St. Charles schools' Superintendent Mark Roubinek, the approximately 74 seniors who were tested participated in the school’s graduation ceremony.]