This is a public response to Superintendent Jennifer Fano’s special statement concerning an incident at the football game at Randolph High School on September 1, 2017:
This past Friday night, I was excited for a joyous reunion of students, parents and staff at the first football game of the 2017-18 school year. Sadly, some of the student body marred the evening by attending the game under the influence of alcohol. At least a few smuggled alcohol into the game itself.
As Superintendent Fano said in her statement, the school has an obligation to ensure student safety at all school-sponsored events; and, when a student is suspected of being under the influence, that student must be referred for screening, by law. Specifically, the law requires testing of students “who show significant symptoms of the use of [alcohol or other controlled substances].”1
The safety of our students and the community is indeed paramount, and action by the school administration was absolutely warranted. However, the action taken at this event was disproportionate, and exposed some serious gaps in district procedures. An entire section of the bleachers was emptied, and approximately 80 students and their parents were detained in the main office before being referred to area hospitals, who performed blood tests to screen for alcohol consumption. While exact figures have not been released, initial reports I’ve heard suggest fewer than five positive test results: an overwhelming majority of students had no trace of alcohol in their system.2
Students were held in the school for about an hour. Parents were contacted by the students themselves, with parent volunteers trying to reach as many more as possible. Students then proceeded to emergency rooms in Dover, Denville, Morristown and Livingston. The emergency departments at Dover and at Morristown were not given any warning of what was coming, and were overwhelmed.
Through the course of the night, about 75 completely innocent students subjected themselves to blood testing – something the police can only order with a warrant – to exonerate themselves and avoid a mandatory five-day suspension. When the ER is the only medical facility available to perform the screening, state law mandates that the district pay the fees.3 The total bill is likely to exceed $100,000.
Let me be very clear: teenage drinking is a serious problem, and it did in fact occur at our school on Friday night. Our process of preventing backpacks, bottles and cans from entering the stadium broke down. In addition, some number of students arrived intoxicated. We owe it to the community to identify such students, and to protect them and the community. But, we also need to do it in a way that protects the rights and dignity of the student body. When the accused-but-innocent outnumber the guilty 16 to one, we probably did it wrong.
This is not the fault of our school administrators on the front lines. This was a large event, with an excited student body. To call it chaotic would be an understatement. But it does expose that we, as a district, are not adequately prepared for these situations. We need to ensure security policies at the entrance are strictly enforced. We need enough student section monitors in place to deter misbehavior. And we need to ensure that the students we send to the ER for testing do in fact show the “significant symptoms” described in state law, so we can keep those students from harming themselves or others, without overcrowding ERs and putting emergency medical patients at risk.
The district is required to review its alcohol and drug intervention procedures annually. Friday night’s events have given us an opportunity to consider how we better prepare for large-scale events. I stand ready to help the board and administration in this task in any way that I can, so that our Friday nights can be focused on celebrating our athletes, our performing artists and our whole-school community.
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Chris Treston has resided in Randolph since 2007, and has two students enrolled in Randolph High School. He is a candidate for election to the board of education in November.
1. N.J.S.A. 18A:40A-11. See also N.J.S.A. 18A:40A-12 and N.J.A.C. 6A:16-4.3.
2. The threshold for screening any detectable amount of ethanol in the blood stream is very low, less than 0.003% BAC. It is about 30 times lower than the threshold for driving under the influence, 0.100% BAC.
3. N.J.A.C. 6A:16-4.3(a)(4)(i).