St. Charles parents upset over breathalyzer tests of seniors

/ 6 June 2012 / jennifer

Jeffrey Pieters, Rochester Post-Bulletin, June 6, 2012 –

On Sunday, the roughly 74 seniors who were tested Friday went through commencement ceremonies, said Mark Roubinek, superintendent of St. Charles schools.”All students participated in the ceremony,” Roubinek said. “Those who needed to completed the consequences and accountability. It’s a good class, a good group of seniors.”

Under the influence?

The incident began when students arrived at school on Friday morning and staff observed a number of students who showed signs of being under the influence of alcohol, Roubinek said.

“There was concern about the number of students initially observed — much larger than a few kids — and the concern that they were not only under the influence, but they would be leaving school shortly after graduation practice,” Roubinek said.

So they called law enforcement to assist with the situation, he said. Each student met with law enforcement individually, Roubinek said. He declined to provide more information on what happened.

Welp received a phone call from his son at about 8:30 a.m. Friday telling him that the members of the graduating class had been called into the gym for what they thought was a rehearsal for the graduation ceremony, but instead it turned out to be for meetings with police and breath tests.

“I knew right away that wasn’t right,” Welp said, who immediately went to the school. “They had all the seniors in the gym. I just told him (St. Charles High School Principal Ben Bernard), ‘You can’t do this.’”

Sixteen kids, including Alec, were selected as the first to be tested. Jim Welp said about seven or eight teens failed the test, but the Post-Bulletin couldn’t confirm that number with authorities.

The students were called up one by one onto the stage and tested in a room to the side of the stage. Alec, who passed the test, was tested twice, his father said. “He didn’t have any alcohol in his system. He wasn’t drinking,” Welp said.

Welp left the school with his son but then returned. Upon returning, he saw several more law enforcement vehicles, from Olmsted County, the Minnesota State Patrol and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. As many as seven officers conducting breath tests, he said.

G. Paul Beaumaster, Rice County Attorney and president of the Minnesota County Attorneys Association, said officers can use probable cause that a person is under the influence to arrest or administer a sobriety test.

“Not having seen the reports, you can certainly ask if an underage person showed signs of consumption and you can investigate or test,” Beaumaster said. “The reports will be important to determine if probable cause existed.”

Legal basis?

Welp said he called a Rochester attorney. Other parents have also contacted attorneys, he said. And some parents will attend the school board’s June 11 meeting to state their objection to the tests.

Welp said he’s aware that there were graduation-related parties Thursday night, but he is unaware if his son attended. The parties were organized with sober drivers, and some kids stayed the night at houses that hosted the parties, he said. Some traveled together to school in cars driven by sober drivers.

“The kids have already admitted they were drinking,” Welp said. “That’s why they got caught. … I can understand doing locker searches and whatnot, but they cannot do an alcohol test on every kid that was in there.”

Roubinek said it was a learning experience.

“They’re a good class, but everybody makes mistakes,” he said. “You learn, you’re responsible and you move ahead.”

Mike Dougherty and John Weiss contributed to this report.