Krause: Prom safety matters

There’s a checklist for both parents and students who are enduring high school senior year.

Some of it is wonderful. You’ll never feel as important as you feel as the countdown for graduation begins. It’s as if everything is being done on your behalf. Every song on the radio was written either for you, or with you in mind.

Some of it is nerve-wracking. There are college applications, followed by college acceptances and rejections. There is the race to find enough scholarship money so you can afford to attend the college of your choice. And of course there’s the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (or, as it is affectionately or otherwise known, FAFSA), which is only slightly less tortuous than having all your teeth drilled and then pulled.

In the middle of all this is the prom — which is something that should be the most pleasant of all senior memories, and the one that evokes only the most wistful nostalgia.

All too often, though, it is not. And despite the best efforts of school officials, police and parents, it can turn into something either horrifically tragic or adversely life-changing in other ways.

Last week, Lynn Classical was the site of a prom safety night (another is to be held at English tonight) in which Police Chief Michael Mageary, School Superintendent Dr. Catherine Latham, School Health and Wellness Director Michael Geary, members of Girls Incorporated, and Lynn attorney Judy Wayne took turns bringing home the importance of parental responsibility about the pitfalls that can affect lives on prom night.

Start with the obvious. Alcohol and driving do not mix at any age, but this is a more lethal combination in the hands of inexperienced and inattentive drivers, which kids driving home from proms and later-night post-prom parties tend to be. Lynn Police showed a very graphic, almost frightening, film that brought this point home with a jolt.

Now, the cynics among us might scoff at what they might consider such heavy-handedness, but sometimes that’s warranted. And I’m sure the parents at this well-attended forum took note of the grisly nature of the film and will remember it on their children’s prom night.

Police also told parents that every boy and girl entering this year’s prom will be given a breathalyzer that’s foolproof when it comes to detecting alcohol. The object isn’t to incarcerate or prosecute, Mageary said. It’s for the safety of students who — despite all the efforts and education on the subject of illegal substances and driving — still insist on using alcohol at the prom. Those kids will be sent home with their parents.

Wayne’s role in all this is directed solely to parents. The former Middlesex County prosecutor, who now has a law office at Seaport Landing, talked about the social host law. In this state, that law is uncompromising and unrelenting.

There may be some cases where parents are deemed blameless — such as if they’re asleep and kids sneak into the house and start drinking. But by and large, parents are liable for anything that happens in their homes. And that’s even if they cordon themselves off in another part of the house and are oblivious to any underage drinking during a get-together. They are accountable if one of those boys or girls leaves their house in an inebriated state and ends up causing an accident and any carnage that comes with it.

This can, and often does, mean jail — even if the parent was completely unaware there was drinking going on.

Wayne ticked off the list of repercussions that come as a result: arrest, hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, jail, the possible loss of jobs, possible loss of homes, seeing their children’s college acceptances possibly rescinded and their scholarships taken away. Any monetary liability will most likely not be covered by insurance, Wayne also said.

The chain of events that can come out of such simple negligence is staggering, and it’s something that every parent really needs to know.

As just about everybody involved in this forum said last Wednesday, the job of a parent is to be a parent, not a friend. Sure, you can host a post-prom party. Just make sure there’s plenty of food and some good, old-fashioned cans of soda and bottles of water. Anything stronger can land you in trouble you don’t want to experience.

One incident was not brought up at the forum, but it’s one I recall well. Only two weeks after a mock accident at Saugus High that was designed to dissuade imminent prom-goers from drinking and driving, a group of students went to their prom and school-supervised post-prom party in Boston, took breathalyzers, and then went to Nahant Beach to drink, according to prosecutors.

Afterward, one of the students hit and killed a woman walking with her daughter on Essex Street. He’d fallen asleep while driving.

The boy ended up serving time.

The story reinforces Wayne’s admonition that kids that age can very easily put one over on adults and find ways to get their hands on alcohol despite everyone’s efforts to stop them.

As Mageary said last week, somewhere in the state, someone is going to be maimed or killed in an alcohol-related accident.

Their job at the forum was to do their part not to have it happen here.

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