Prom is always an exciting and special time. Proms at our schools are typically held in fun venues in San Francisco. Although Proms are held off campus, students and parents should be aware that all rules and restrictions for alcohol and drug use at school apply. Students and parents also should be aware that buses, backpacks and purses have been searched at some of our schools’ Proms and students have been suspended for possession of alcohol or other drugs or for being under the influence. Additionally, random breathalyzer tests have been administered at some Proms.
To make Prom safe and fun, we urge parents to take steps before and after Prom, including knowing in advance the whereabouts of your students for pre- and post-Prom parties, checking in with your teen post-Prom, contacting the hosting parents to ensure that their parties will be supervised and alcohol and drug free, imposing reasonable curfews and not renting hotel rooms for post-Prom parties. Special precautions should be taken for transportation to and from Prom, as discussed below.
Be Mindful about Your Own Use. Consider holding an alcohol-free pre-Prom party. The party should be about the teens dressed in their finery with photographs being taken, not alcohol being consumed by the parents. Save any imbibing for after the teens have left!
Binge drinking and other drug use often takes place on “Party Buses”, especially after Prom. Although several deaths led to legislation in California regulating party buses effective January 2013, unscrupulous bus companies and drivers continue to ignore current legal protections and safe practices. A recent example of this occurred last summer when police intercepted a party bus loaded with young teens and copious amounts of alcohol as well as marijuana and prescription drugs. With roughly 30 teens on board, there were 30 bottles of hard liquor and a case of hard lemonade. This incident was not an isolated incident as party buses rented for Prom as well as New Year’s Eve and birthday parties throughout the year often involve binge drinking and other drug use.
As Superintendent of Marin County Schools Mary Jane Burke recently wrote to all schools:
“This time of year in particular, as prom and graduation season approaches, kids are more likely to want to “go big” with party buses and hosting social engagements in celebration of these milestones. I urge parents to get involved with the planning of these events and require responsible chaperones. Inform your teens that the party bus rental comes with a responsible adult on board; a party is allowable but only with attentive adults present. Establish clear rules and boundaries for your teen when they are with friends. Establish a level of trust and be clear that if your child violates that trust, there will be consequences.”
California law actually requires that a chaperone over the age of 25 years be present on these buses. Accordingly, at least one adult should be present on the buses going to - and returning from - Prom. Binge drinking and other drug use particularly take place post-Prom when the buses are essentially parties on wheels. Other examples of precautions to prevent alcohol and drug use include requiring that any backpacks be placed in the cabin under the bus (and stay there until the kids disembark), feeling or searching the backpacks for alcohol and drug paraphernalia and requiring signed waivers by each passenger. As required by California law, if the driver becomes aware of any alcohol or drug use by minors, the bus company is obligated by law to immediately terminate their services. That means parents may have to retrieve their kids wherever the bus has stopped.
Additionally parents who sign party bus contracts are often on the hook for hundreds of dollars in fees (often contracts charge a set amount per pile of vomit) and other damage incurred.
Regarding post-Prom parties (also called kick-backs which are smaller gatherings than huge parties), some parents generally “look the other way” with respect to alcohol and marijuana use. An NIH paper published in July 2014 examined 22 studies on the issue of parents providing alcohol or youth or providing a place to party. The paper concluded that “there is little research evidence to support the notion that it is even possible to ‘teach’ children to drink responsibly.” The paper quoted three studies and found that:
“Parents might believe they are keeping their children and their children’s friends safe by allowing them to drink in their home. This is not the case. Adolescents who attend parties where parents supply alcohol are at increased risk for heavy episodic drinking, alcohol related problems and drinking and driving”. The same applies to other drug use. The premise that parents are keeping their teens “safe” when they provide a place to party and look the other way on alcohol and drug use by their teens, albeit well-intentioned, is a false one.
If you are going to host a Post-Prom party, we advise taking the precautions outlined at http://www.tamdistrict.org/cms/lib8/CA01000875/Centricity/Domain/146/070329-teenparties.pdf
In addition, consider contacting the parents (a group email is easy), clearly setting forth your rules, requiring that backpacks and purses be left at the doorway and not allowing in and out privileges. Another suggested practice is to require any teens who are driving (though most take Uber) to leave their keys with you and then to check in with you before they leave.
Social Host Ordinances. These local laws hold a parent liable for parties or gatherings when alcohol is consumed by minors. It doesn’t have to be a big party - a “gathering” is defined in some jurisdictions as involving one or more minors.
Social host ordinances are strictly enforced in most jurisdictions with some towns issuing press releases of citations such as Larkspur, Corte Madera, San Anselmo, Fairfax, Greenbrae and Kentfield. Recently, Tiburon and Belvedere also adopted new “zero tolerance” policies towards underage drinking and social hosting.