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September 07, 2011 | 07:55 AM
It's that time of year again. Teachers and students across Wisconsin are pouring into classrooms and schools to begin a new year. A new school year is an exciting time, often bringing new beginnings for parents, students and faculty. As Wisconsin students head back to school, it is imperative they have a safe environment in which to learn. A safe school involves safe classrooms, lunchrooms, playgrounds, and for older students, even safe sporting areas and after school activities.

Students of all ages should feel secure when on their school campus and school administrators should have the tools they need to create safe school environments, including alcohol-free school campuses. According to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI), numerous studies have shown that students who do not feel safe or who are not free of the effects of drugs and alcohol cannot achieve their full academic potential.

Two years ago, a situation was brought to my attention which has led me to examine current law regarding alcohol-free school campuses. Under the law, all underage persons (those under the legal drinking age of 21) are prohibited from possessing or consuming alcohol beverages, unless the person is accompanied by his or her parent or guardian. Current law also prohibits a person of any age from possessing or consuming alcohol beverages on school premises, unless written permission is obtained from the school administrator.

However, a loophole in state law exists which allows students to consume alcohol with a parent or guardian elsewhere, and then attend a school event or be on school grounds while under the influence of alcohol. For instance, a student or even a recent graduate could consume alcohol with a parent at home, and then attend a school dance or football game while intoxicated. This has happened in our area, leaving school officials to deal with the situation and the inebriated student. While the student was cited by local law enforcement at the event, the citation was eventually thrown out by the courts, as the student was technically within the parameters of what is allowed by law.

Working with school officials where this situation occurred, I introduced Senate Bill (SB) 159 in order to close this loophole. SB 159 would prohibit an underage person from being on school premises with any detectable alcohol concentration in his or her blood or breath, regardless of whether the underage person is accompanied by his or her parent, guardian, or spouse who has attained the legal drinking age.

School functions and events should be safe, family-friendly zones, and students should be aware of the potential consequences that come with consuming alcohol. Underage drinking is strongly associated with many health and social problems among youth, and a 2007 report found that Wisconsin had the highest rate of underage drinking in the nation.

Of course, underage drinking can lead to the loss of lives. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation reported that in that same year, for two out of three teenaged drivers killed in motor vehicle crashes, it was their first, and unfortunately, last crash. Many of those involved alcohol and it is crucial to keep our young people safe, both on the roads and on their school grounds.

The DPI has many resources available for school administrators and teachers on safe and drug free schools, including an Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Program and an Alcohol/Traffic Safety and Driver Education program. Parents may also be interested in these resources, as it is parents who have the most influence on whether or not their children drink alcohol — sometimes even more than their friends. For more information on these and other programs, feel free to visit the DPI Web site at http://dpi.wi.gov/, or contact the DPI at (800) 441-4563.

Sen. Kedzie can be reached in Madison at P.O. Box 7882, Madison, WI 53707-7882 or by calling toll-free (800) 578-1457. He may be reached in the district at (262) 742-2025 or on-line at www.senatorkedzie.com.

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