Alan Stel, principal at Penticton Secondary School, holds a breathalyzer unit purchased to test students for alcohol consumption as they enter dances and other social functions at the school.
Students attending the school's winter formal on Thursday were tested with the device, but Alan Stel says it wasn't punishment for previous drinking problems at the school.
"This was not born out of anything specific," Stel said. "I know there have been some drinking issues at Pen-Hi, but there are at every school."
Instead, Stel said the school introduced the testing in the interest of student safety.
"We're just saying we care about you and, honestly, you're our responsibility if we extend it in terms of the safety. We can't passively sit by and say that this is OK."
Also a factor in the decision to start testing students for alcohol at dances and other school social functions was liability issues involving drinking and driving, he said.
He described the school's breathalyzer as a small, simple, handheld device different from those used by police. The device doesn't require a student to blow into a tube. It contains an internal sensor and can be used within about 30 centimetres of a student.
"You can wave it over a glass and it can detect alcohol in the glass," said Stel.
The cost of the device was about $500. Any administrator who will be using the device will undergo an online training lesson.
To ensure it's fair for all students, the breathalyzer will be used on everyone at a social function.
"It has a turnaround time of about six seconds," Stel said.
Should a student test positive for alcohol, administrators would sit the student down and call in a parent.
"We would never use it as a definitive piece. . . . We certainly wouldn't turn the (student) around and say, 'You can go home,'" Stel said.
A student who is suspected of drinking but refuses a breathalyzer test would be ensured safe passage home.
Stel said he has used a breathalyzer as a school administrator for 10 years, and he expressed confidence that once students are aware the device may be used at a dance, they'll act responsibly.
"I have to tell you, I've never seen it actually happen where a kid comes under the influence knowing that there's going to be a breathalyzer," he said.
Stel said the School Act provides schools with the authority to make decisions concerning school safety. Although breathalyzer use does not require permission from school trustees, he spoke with Okanagan Skaha superintendent Wendy Hyer about his decision to introduce it at Penticton Secondary.
"So much of what we do is reactive," said Stel. "This is a proactive step that works."
Still, Stel may be alone in the Okanagan in using a breathalyzer in a public school.
Central Okanagan school trustee Chris Gorman said Kelowna's schools use the RCMP liaison and security staff to police high school dances.
"I don't see breathalyzers in our schools any time soon," Gorman said.
Spokesmen for the Vernon School District and the Okanagan Similkameen School District, which takes in Osoyoos and Oliver, said also breathalyzers are not used in their schools.