KNOXVILLE — Several students could face school or legal discipline after being found intoxicated Saturday night at a Knoxville High School winter dance.
Eight students were involved in the incident, Superintendent Cassi Pearson said Monday. Two of those students were transported to Knoxville Hospital & Clinics for treatment, she said.
The Knoxville School Board discussed the situation in closed session at the end of its meeting Monday. Discipline options could include suspension, expulsion or exclusion from future student activities, Pearson said.
School leaders also are exploring ways to turn the situation into a teachable moment, she said.
“We really need kids to understand really how risky that behavior is,” Pearson said. “I think it’s going to be a catalyst for helping our community figure out a better way of living and not taking those risks.”
Kevon Hughes, an 11th grader, said he felt uncomfortable shortly after he and his girlfriend entered the dance Saturday.
“It was just like a different vibe,” he said.
Soon, students were being called into the KHS principal’s office for questioning by school officials and Knoxville police, Hughes said. Emergency responders took a student out of KHS on a stretcher in full view of dance participants, he said. Hughes and his date left soon afterward.
“It was getting to be too much for us, and we didn’t want to deal with it,” he said.
Knoxville Police Chief Dan Losada said his officers checked several students with breath-testing devices. Some were sent home with their parents, Losada said. It’s possible that law enforcement officials will file charges, he said.
School Board Member Larry Scott said Monday that he was disappointed that charges hadn’t been filed yet.
“I’d like to see some repercussions for this,” he said.
Pearson said school leaders will partner with law enforcement to determine the best way to send a message about student drinking.
“We’re trying to figure out how to balance the consequences and punishment with education,” she said. “We feel very fortunate that there weren’t any life-threatening (situations) or fatalities involved Saturday night, but that’s always a possibility,” she said. “Kids don’t realize how big of a deal it really is.”
The school district wants to engage youth, parents and others in the community to more effectively address teen substance abuse, Pearson said. That’s made difficult by easygoing attitudes about alcohol use, she said.
“That’s really a culture we need to change,” Pearson said. “There’s a reason that our government set up ages for drinking alcohol.”
Hughes, who’s 16, agrees. Adults become part of the problem when they supply teens with alcohol, but ultimately, it’s the teens who drink it, he said.
“I think they’re making bad choices,” Hughes said. “They know the legal age to drink is 21 and they’re just not obeying that law.”
Losada said parental involvement is key.
“Parents need to be aware of what their children are doing,” he said. “In this case, one of the youth involved drank so much that that person had to be treated at the hospital for possible alcohol poisoning. Parents need to be having the conversation with their children and making sure they understand what is appropriate.”
Pearson said that risky behaviors will be discussed in a health class to be required of all sophomores and other wellness courses in the curriculum.
One change that won’t be made, she said, concerns the school’s prom. It’s still on for April 13, though stronger safety precautions will be in place, she added.
“A few people made some very poor choices,” Pearson said. “Everybody else doesn’t deserve to be punished.”