RANDOLPH, NJ - Board President Al Matos described the first day of school as the “best ever,” but could not proceed without acknowledging the football season opener which resulted in blood tests for approximately 80 Randolph High School students.
“There was great concern by administrators and the school security team that a large group of students seated in the student fan home section… may have been under the influence of alcohol and were required to be tested under Board Policy 5530,” Matos said.
“With a large group of students involved in this late Friday evening before a major holiday, the task was overwhelming, but our staff and administrators handled the challenge in a professional and caring manner,” he added.
Matos explained a Supreme Court ruling that the probable cause needed for police officers to justify an unwarranted search would be too extreme in school situations, so school officials follow “the well-established standard of reasonable suspicion.”
He added that families will receive reimbursement from the district for any negative tests, and parents should reach out to the administration to begin that process.
“Let’s review the facts…. The said situation began when a container of beer fell or was thrown in front of school personnel charged with monitoring the student fan section of the home bleachers. This act alone was not the reason for testing, as reported in some media outlets,” Matos said.
Further investigation by the administration found open containers of beer and the section smelled strongly of alcohol, Matos reported. Several students were visibly intoxicated, and administrators found more containers after students were removed from the section. Matos said the classrooms where students waited for their parents smelled of alcohol, as well.
“You should know that during the investigation, students provided staff members with certain social media photos and videos showing our students consuming alcohol at a house party, which started several hours before game time,” he mentioned.
New Jersey has a zero-tolerance policy for underage drinking, Matos continued, and he believes a school staff member cannot use a visual assumption of innocence with this zero-tolerance policy.
“You said at the start of your report that you were going to distinguish between your thoughts and when you’re speaking on behalf of the board, but I don’t think that was clearly stated,” board member Colleen Pascale said. “I don’t agree with and have a different belief than you, which I cited in the policy meeting and in closed session,... but I do not agree with all the points in the president’s report.”
Ron Conti, chair of the policy committee, invited parents to the upcoming open policy meeting (Oct. 17 at 5:30pm in the Randolph High School Media Library) to discuss revisions and clarifications to Policy 5530.
Parent Kathy Fodali said, “We can’t go back and make that not happen; however, I see nothing from the administration or the board that this is not going to happen again.”
“No one here has taken any responsibility for their failure to do their job that night,” Fodali continued, stating that security did not check bags and containers at the entrance to the game. “There will be no peace until there’s accountability.”
“I do agree with the actions that were taken, I’m just concerned about the level it was taken and specifically the number of students that were corralled,” began parent Tom Murphy. “What guarantee can the administration give us as parents that this won’t happen again?”
Murphy commented that if his child wants to be involved in school spirit and visit with friends in the fan section, he might “be one of those that… gets hauled in and asked for a drug test” under the current policy.
Senior Class President Nate Pangaro spoke to the board on behalf of students involved in the incident, providing feedback and questions about the process and noting the difficulty in reaching out to parents when the school has very poor cell reception.
“I was interviewed by Channel 4 news, and before I made an answer to them I called my mother… and she told me to go talk to the administration. And the administration was very friendly on the matter,” Pangaro stated. “And we both agreed that we did not want to look at the problems and start rehashing the problems, we wanted to figure out the solution.”
He hopes the school will create an organized plan that all staff members understand and follow.
By comparison, an intruder entered the school this past week, and Pangaro believes “it was very organized, and students knew what to do, and it was settled as soon as possible. That’s what I want to see and what I think the community wants to see.”
"When these events happen, our community must stand together, unified, to find a solution," Pangaro concluded.
Rahim Huland El , also a Randolph parent , ended the public portion of the meeting expressing that his position is zero tolerance, that he thinks there is a "Laissez faire attitude" among some parents in town on drinking, and he feels that administration needs to be more vigilant on security getting into the games.
Matos reintroduced the previously discussed idea of the school using breathalyzers before school events as well. He stated that this will be discussed again at future meetings.