To deter would-be drinkers, the school will now require all students to blow into a breathalyzer before entering dances, he said. If they're found drinking, students face police citation, school suspension, substance counseling — and perhaps a night in jail.
The policy will take effect at the Last Chance Dance at Paly on Friday.
Previously, only students who acted or perhaps smelled suspicious were tested, but now all will be screened, he said.
Drinking has been a problem at Paly dances all year, and there are always a couple kids caught intoxicated, Berkson said.
Dealing with drunk students at the prom wasn't just unpleasant — it took administrators' attention away from the 600 other students at the party, he said. The officials had to watch over the handful of intoxicated teens while their parents drove up to San Francisco, where the prom was held, Berkson said.
The new policy has already garnered praise from some students, who have e-mailed administrators to thank them for making dances feel safer, Berkson said.
But there might be some fallout from the policy.
It could cause fewer students to attend dances, according to senior Jonathan Shan, a student-government member. The student government is considering spending less money on dances in the future on the assumption fewer people will come, he said.
Personally, he wishes students would just decide not to drink and eliminate the need for such a policy, but said he understands the administration's decision.
"If students are going to be disrespectful when they're drunk and they're going to scream obscenities at staff, then they should be breathalyzed," he said.
Principal Jacquie McEvoy said using breathalyzers to combat underage drinking is common among Peninsula high schools. The solution worked to cut drinking at Hillsdale High School, Berkson said.
To enforce the policy, the school bought two Alcopro breathalyzers, bringing its total to three, he said.
The black, hand-held devices, each costing $560, are equipped with a straw to blow into, according to the Alcopro Web site.
Instead of using the device's straw, which triggers an exact reading of blood-alcohol content, the school will first use a small plastic cup that triggers a "yes" or "no" reading, Berkson said. If a student blows a "yes," the administration will then use the straw to determine how drunk he or she is — and whether medical care in necessary, he said.
Students face numerous consequences for drinking, according to Berkson. Administrators will call the police, who will issue a citation for underage drinking. Parents will be called to take kids home, and if they decline to come — as happened in one case at prom — students will be taken into police custody.
Students will also face five days of suspension. The penalty will be cut to two days if underage offenders agree to undergo three counseling sessions from Adolescent Counseling Services.
The offense will also go on a pupil's permanent record, meaning administrators must mention it on college-application forms that ask about suspensions, Berkson said.
He said a one-time suspension would likely have a minimal impact on an application, but could still deter colleges.
"If there's one student [applicant] who's been suspended and one who hasn't, who's going to get in?" he asked rhetorically.