Pickerington schools officials now can use alcohol-detecting devices to determine if students possess or are under the influence of alcohol.

Pickerington schools officials now can use alcohol-detecting devices to determine if students possess or are under the influence of alcohol.

On April 10, the Pickerington Board of Education voted unanimously to amend the district's student drug and alcohol policy to permit the use of such devices.

The action, according to board members, wasn't in response to an uptick in alcohol- or drug-related incidents at the district's schools or at school events.

Rather, they said, it's an effort to implement new technologies to enhance student safety.

"There are new devices out there that can sense alcohol," board President Lori Sanders said. "What we were doing was designed to not restrict the ability to use those types of things."

Sanders said the district currently doesn't own the devices. However, the Pickerington Police Department and other law enforcement agencies are putting them to work, and the policy amendment would allow those entities to use the equipment, if needed, at schools or school events.

"It all had to do with what's available, technology-wise," Sanders said. "When we update policies, we try to make the language broad to allow for the use of new tools that come up.

"(Previously), our policy just said we could use (police) dogs to search for drugs. This allows us to use the new technologies."

According to Pickerington Police Cmdr. Matt Delp, local police have devices which can detect ambient air. He said they help officers determine if someone has alcohol on his or her breath, and they also can detect if a beverage or other liquid contains alcohol.

"These devices just monitor the air around their breath or the vapors around a beverage," Delp said. "It just gives you reason to investigate a little further if alcohol is detected."

ThisWeek requested district statistics related to the number of drug and alcohol incidents involving Pickerington Local School District students at school and school events in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 school years.

As of press time, that information had not been provided. A district official said the employee responsible for tracking those cases was out of the office until the end of April.

Delp noted Pickerington police only have legal jurisdiction at Pickerington High School Central, Ridgeview Middle School and Heritage and Pickerington elementary schools. He said information related to his department's involvement in drug and alcohol incidents at those schools wasn't readily available.

The police department does not have jurisdiction over PHS North because it is not located within Pickerington city limits. The Fairfield County Sheriff's Office has jurisdiction over the portion of Refugee Road where the school is located.

He added, however, that the department has not seen a substantial increase in either drug or alcohol incidents at the schools.

"The school population has grown but I don't think the scope of the problem has grown," he said. "The times we have the biggest issue with students and alcohol is at after-school events such as dances or athletic events.

"The most seem to be at football or basketball games, but by far, we have more adult drug and alcohol arrests than with students," Delp said. "It's not even close."

The district's policy states the school board "will not permit any student to possess, solicit, sell, conceal, consume, show evidence of having consumed, use or offer for sale any substance while on school district property; or at any school district-related curricular or extracurricular activity, whether it be held on school district property or off-site."

Sanders said the district is permitted to use drug-detecting canines or alcohol-detecting devices if a student is suspected of using or possessing a banned substance, and can randomly search students and students' lockers or other personal effects at any time.

Board member Lisa Reade said the policy amendment attempts to keep pace with emerging products which can help keep schools and students free of banned substances.

"It's just being a little more specific," she said. "It's just another tool in the toolbox to (show) we're serious."

Delp said he's found the PLSD already is "pretty non-tolerant" of drugs and alcohol and students understand that.

Allowing for the use of the detection devices, he said, reinforces that.

"It might be more of a deterrent factor," he said.