Deans Announce Possibility of Breathalyzer: May Be Implemented In 2007-2008 Year

Phillips Academy continues to seriously consider the installation of a breathalyzer in Isham Health Center for use beginning in the 2007-2008 school year. Cluster Deans informed students of this possibility during Cluster Meetings last Wednesday. While the Deans and Cluster Presidents have considered this issue at recent meetings, the administration will not make a formal decision to install a breathalyzer before giving the faculty the opportunity to have a significant discussion about the matter, according to Dean of Students and Residential Life Marlys Edwards. If a breathalyzer policy is implemented, parents will be required to give signed permission for their children to undergo a breathalyzer test. The permission would most likely become a condition to attend Andover, included in the enrollment contract. Acquiring a breathalyzer would “further support health and safety at our school and…prove innocence,” said Flagstaff Cluster Dean Clyfe Beckwith. According to Mr. Washburn, West Quad South Cluster Dean, the breathalyzer policy is being put in place to address the issue of honesty and to promote the health and safety of students. The breathalyzer would be used in a situation in which a student’s behavior raised a Dean’s suspicion or a credible source approached a Cluster Dean concerning a student’s alcohol use. Another possible scenario in which a breathalyzer could be used is if a Cluster Dean did not know which students in the presence of alcohol had actually been drinking. Mr. Washburn also said that the breathalyzer policy raises the question of whether the administration should change the “in the presence” clause of The Blue Book. It is possible that a student in the presence of alcohol would receive warning as opposed to probation, as a breathalyzer would scientifically prove whether a student had consumed alcohol. The breathalyzer testing would take place at Isham Health Center. Some are concerned that students might be less willing to go to Isham to seek medical help if the breathalyzer tests took place there. Mr. Beckwith mentioned that this Isham faculty are wary of this possibility. Concerning the actual testing, Mr. Washburn said it is possible that the Cluster Deans or a nurse will administer the test and that at least one witness would also be present to ensure fairness. Cluster Deans stressed that the breathalyzer would not be used for random testing, although one Dean said that students on probation for drinking might be subject to subsequent, potentially random tests. According to Ms. Edwards, the Deans’ Office has been discussing the purchase of a breathalyzer for years. The issue has been brought up numerous times at the Deans’ Table as well at the Deans’ and Cluster Presidents’ Table. Ms. Edwards also said that the school’s possession of a breathalyzer provides the opportunity for students to prove their innocence if accused as well as an opportunity for Deans to determine with certainty whether a student in question has been drinking. Mike Jiang ’07, West Quad North Cluster President, said, “The implementation of a breathalyzer at Phillips Academy will be a huge step towards a cleaner and more honest discipline process, if it is used correctly. If the breathalyzer is used as has been stated by the Deans, only when questioning a student’s involvement in a particular incident and in cases of medical emergencies, it is a necessary step in the right direction.” Jiang noted that if the breathalyzer were misused, it would strain student-faculty relations and would be perceived as a violation of students’ rights to privacy. Some are concerned that a breathalyzer symbolizes a lack of trust between faculty and students, while others see the breathalyzer as a fair way to eliminate the appeal of lying about alcohol use. Mr. Beckwith stressed to students that “[they] do have a voice” and encouraged communication between students and their student government representatives. Jiang said, “There is no doubt that the culture of discipline at Andover is changing, moving towards a much more proactive process than the current one. Naturally, there will be significant opposition to this move, but it is a change that has been discussed and debated each year I have been at Andover, and one that will eventually be implemented, so it might as well be now.”