Friday, October 10, 2003
Intoxicated students lead to cancellation of high school dances
The rules and conditions were crystal clear: If even one student disrupted the first dance of the school year by indulging in drugs or alcohol or engaging in violence, all dances for the 2003-2004 year at Concord-Carlisle High School would be cancelled. Unfortunately, even ruining the opportunity for the entire school to attend future dances was not enough of a deterrent. A handful of youths reportedly came to the junior/senior dance on September 13 under the influence of alcohol. One, a senior from Concord, was drunk enough that she was observed "stumbling, grabbing onto people's arms, falling down. We wondered, 'will she be caught or won't she?'" recalls a senior boy from Concord who attended the dance. She was. And now, other than the sophomore semi-formal and junior and senior proms, Concord-Carlisle High School will not be offering its students any dances this school year.
"This was not a rash decision," says CCHS principal Arthur Dulong. "Over the past two years, I've indicated my desire for the dances, even re-instituting them after they'd been abolished. This resolve unraveled last spring, however, when a dance was quite disruptive."
With the fate of future dances hanging in the balance, Dulong called student leaders together and asked for help. One suggestion offered by the students was to hold dances with fewer people, so it was decided there would be a junior/senior dance, followed by a sophomore/freshman dance, thenif all went wellthe popular all-school Halloween Dance. Student leaders also suggested that they keep the rules simple and strict, so students would know what was at stake.
Caitlin Holland of Carlisle, who serves as secretary of the junior class, was at that meeting. "[Mr. Dulong] didn't want us not to have fun, he made that really clear. I cannot believe he even gave us another chance after the last dance. But he did give us another chance, and the students didn't step up."
Dulong himself was surprised that the plan didn't work. "I thought this was very do-able. I fully thought the students would rise to the occasion."
The question most frequently asked by students and parents now is an incredulous "Why?" Why would some students blatantly make a choice that would so negatively affect their peers?
"I suppose they fully expected not to be caught," says Dulong. "I've been told that some people even took it on as a challenge."
The senior boy from Concord agrees that some students might drink before a dance "because they think they can get away with it." In this case particularly, he added, "that's just ignorant thinking. After all, the teachers were looking specifically for [intoxicated behavior]. This was the big concern."
Kathy Hassey, a Carlisle parent with three sons at the high school allows that, although this is no excuse, the offending students were probably testing their boundaries. "I always have hope. These aren't bad kids. They're kids going through different phases. But their parents have to be on the ball."
Which leads to another question: if only a handful of students have broken the rules, why should the entire student body shoulder the punishment?
"I don't look at it that way," says Dulong. "My concern is whether or not someone is presenting a danger to the school community." As for whether the sophomores and freshmen should have a chance to prove they can act appropriately at a school dance of their own, Dulong says no. "We're all in this together," he said.
In addition to having three children at the high school, Hassey has a unique perspective on school dances as chairman of the Carlisle Youth Commission (CYC). For the past seven years, she has been involved with the middle school Friday Night Live (FNL) dances in Carlisle. Although behavioral problems are not unheard of at FNL, the evenings, which include games and an open gym in addition to a DJ and dance music, have had a successful track record over the years. So, one might wonder, what are they doing right at FNL that might be duplicated at CCHS?
"You really can't compare the two, because of the age difference," Hassey points out. "There's not as much testing [of limits] by kids eleven to fourteen years old, as by those who are fourteen to eighteen." There's also the factor of parent participation, Hassey adds. At each FNL evening, there are about 30 parents present as chaperones, as well as five members of the CYC. High school dances typically have only ten chaperones. But stepping up the number of chaperones is not necessarily a viable option.
"There's not a teen around who wants a parent within a state of them," Hassey observes wryly. Besides, in high school, as children grow more independent, "there's the belief that they shouldn't need and don't want as much adult supervision," she says.
However, Hassey does suggest that high school dances might benefit from adding some of the things that make FNL successfulnamely, an open gym or games. Such activities are traditionally available at the annual Senior Safari at the high school after graduation, and Hassey notes that with all the things there are to do, incidents of drinking are extremely rare.
Another potential tool to help curtail drinking before a dance might be the use of a breathalizerthe device used by police to gauge an individual's level of intoxication. Currently, the high school is in the process of obtaining two of these devices.
"We're working on the appropriate protocol for their use," says Dulong. In the near future, the nurse and other staff members will be able to use breathalizers to confirm (or negate) suspected cases of intoxication at school. They would also be available for dances. As for whether these devices could be used to screen every student who enters a dance, Dulong says they do not have plans in place to do so. They would, however, be "constitutionally allowed to check everyone," he adds.
So, there will be no dances at CCHS this year. No video dances, no Halloween dance. But there's always next year. "Next year, we'll start all over again," says Dulong. "I'll meet with student leadership, and perhaps we'll come up with some different consequences. I'm trying to think of it in a positive way."
© 2003 The