Douglas County high schools to use breathalyzers at homecoming dances

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DENVER -- As homecoming approaches at area high schools, some are going to great lengths to curb underage drinking. Douglas County now has two high schools prepared to use breathalyzers to check each student who walks into the homecoming dance.

On Wednesday morning, Jerry Goings, the principal of Highlands Ranch High School sent a message to parents and students, notifying them that they would be using passive breathalyzers at the entrances to the homecoming dance on Friday.

“All students do is blow into it and it gives us a positive or a negative and then they move on,” Goings said.

The line into the dance will move a lot quicker than an alcohol checkpoint, because the machines don't require each student to blow continuously through a straw. Instead, the breathalyzers are equipped with a small cone that requires a quick puff of air.

“We’ll have it in a semi-private area so if a kid does happen to blow a positive it’s not in front of the entire student body at that point,” Goings said.

If the machine detects alcohol, Goings says local law enforcement will then test the students with a more traditional breathalyzer.

“It could be a little intimidating but if you haven’t done anything you have nothing to be worried about,” said senior Maggie Gates.

The breathalyzers were certainly a popular topic among students on Wednesday, but Gates said most students were in favor of them if they help remove the influence of alcohol from their dance.

"We’ve had some issues with (alcohol)," Goings said. “We want to change that culture up a little bit and say. 'No, it doesn’t have to be that way. You can have a great time at a dance without having alcohol or drugs being around or involved with it.'”

Highlands Ranch High School got the breathalyzers from another Douglas County school, Mountain Vista High School, which has used the devices for the last five years at dances. According to district officials, the school hasn't had any alcohol violations for the past three years.

“What it tells me is, kids are choosing to come to the dance, understanding what the expectations are, and following through on that,” Goings said.

“We have kids in our class who have actually gone to the dance over at Vista and said that it was a positive thing there,” Gates said.

“I think it scares them,” said Sandra Griffin, who is the parent of two freshmen at Highlands Ranch. “I think it’s a great idea. I think all the schools should do it.”

The breathalyzers do not detect the presence of marijuana, but Goings said marijuana has not been as big of an issue as alcohol. He says the school has not seen a noticeable increase in marijuana use in or around school since recreational marijuana became law this year.