As the staff at Franklin Community High School met and shook the hands of all 374 of this year’s graduates before commencement, they also quietly went through a mental checklist.
First, they congratulated the senior on finishing high school.
Then they reminded them about what the day represented. Yes, it was a celebration, and they had every reason to be excited. But remember: 373 other people were celebrating the same accomplishment, so students should not do anything that would embarrass anyone.
Finally, the school officials listened for slurred speech and looked for glassy eyes and any other signs of intoxication.
Behind the scenes of big events, school officials check the breath, bags and waistbands of students.
Area high schools typically haven’t had problems with students disrupting commencement or showing up drunk, but Franklin, Greenwood and Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson schools still check with each individual graduate before the ceremony to ensure there will be no disruptions.
Center Grove went a step further and gave portable alcohol breath tests and patted down the 540 graduates. The school district has required graduates to take a breath test for the past 17 years before commencement, spokeswoman Stacy Conrad said.
Next, students open their gowns to show that they aren’t bringing in any items that would disrupt the ceremony. Sunglasses aren’t allowed. That fat man suit one teen was wearing under his robe? Ditch it.
Other local school districts also use breath analyzers before prom and other high-profile events. The 200 students who attended Indian Creek High School’s prom had to submit to a breath test before the dance, and Franklin officials gave breath tests to all students who attended the high school’s post-prom party, assistant principals Nick Sears and Scott Martin said.
Schools haven’t found many students using alcohol since starting to use the breath analyzers, largely because students know there are serious consequences if they’re caught. Typically, school officials will call the police if a student is caught with alcohol, and students can be suspended or expelled, the assistant principals said.
“Anytime we can catch someone that’s impaired in a timely manner, we’re back to safe ground as soon as possible,” Sears said. “It’s not just about them getting behind the wheel; it’s a safety thing at all times. And students know it’s a possibility.”
Other school districts in central Indiana also conduct breath tests before high-profile events such as prom and graduation.
Carmel High School tests students for alcohol before dances and typically before graduation, though not this year because commencement was in the morning, Principal John Williams said.
All high schools at some point have had to deal with students bringing alcohol to school events, and breath tests are a way for schools to show students that they’re expected to make smart choices, Williams said.
“It’s just an attempt to set the very best environment that encourages kids to make the best decision,” he said.
Franklin purchased breath analyzers five years ago, while Indian Creek purchased its two years ago. Neither high school had a problem with students showing up drunk to events or bringing alcohol with them.
But as school officials talked more about how to keep schools and students safe, periodically giving students alcohol breath tests emerged as a practical option, Sears and Martin said.
Students found drinking or using drugs at school events can be suspended or expelled.
But recently Center Grove, Clark-Pleasant, Franklin and other districts also have considered a student’s previous record before deciding what kind of consequences the student would face.
If students who have never been in trouble before pledge not to get in trouble again, they might be allowed to stay in their traditional classes or join an alternative academy so they can graduate.
At Greenwood’s commencement ceremony last weekend, students weren’t tested. But as teachers and administrators registered students, they watched for any erratic or unusual behavior.
The high school also checked any bags brought into the ceremony that were larger than a purse, looking for anything dangerous or that might disrupt the ceremony, guidance director Bill Long said.
Greenwood had about 220 graduates this year, which made it easier for school officials to watch for strange behavior, Ronk said.
During his 18 years at the high school, there have been few instances in which students drank or were disruptive during graduation, prom or other events, he said. Having principals, teachers and other staff present at those events ensures it stays that way, he added.
“We always, whether it be homecoming or prom, we always are well staffed with teachers, administrators and generally police officers as well,” he said. “And for the most part, our kids are very good.”