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Drug Agency To Run Charter School in Detroit

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The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is getting into the charter-school business, with plans to open a "prototype" residential school for at-risk children this fall in Detroit.

Federal drug agents came up with the idea of running a school as an experiment in their efforts to reduce the demand for illicit drugs in troubled urban areas.

Central Michigan University officials last week put the finishing touches on a contract for the D.E.A. school, which will accept 200 students: 40 boys and girls in each of grades 5 through 9.

Officials at the university, which is authorized by the state to issue school charters, said they were only days away from completing the deal with the federal agency. The Michigan charter-school law, adopted in 1993, allows state colleges and school districts to grant charters.

Authorities in the Detroit D.E.A. office were unavailable last week to comment on their rationale for jumping into the education business. But their application clearly indicates that the agency sees a better way to provide alternative schooling to troubled teens.

"This charter school will establish a prototype residential pre~paratory school to meet the unique needs of extremely at-risk urban youth," the school's mission statement declares.

The residential school, tentatively known as the Woodward Academy, is expected to take over space in a former state mental-health clinic and school.

"When successful," the D.E.A. says in the mission statement, the facility might be replicated by the agency's 19 field divisions charged with "drug-demand reduction" across the country.

Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant is the state's most active charter-granting facility. Officials there began discussing the concept with the federal agents nearly a year ago, said Robert C. Mills, the director of the university's charter-school office.

Focus on Parents, Skills

The charter was approved in April, and officials are now working out the details of the operating contract.

Under the drug agency's plan, the school will be an all-day, all-year boarding facility attuned to bolstering character and self-esteem while strengthening students' family connections. It will offer parents preparation for high-school-equivalency tests and other adult-education options as well as combined skills programs for children and parents.

The school's faculty will also create a host of community activities. Eastern Michigan University will also offer courses from its masters of liberal studies in technology program for faculty and staff members at the school.

The project has won support from the Detroit police department. Officials at C.M.U. said last week that the only remaining obstacles were technical and should not hinder the school's opening.

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