Discontented, Some Districts Shifting Gears on Anti-Drug Programs

By Adrienne D. Coles — January 20, 1999 3 min read
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It’s a new year, and in the King County, Wash., schools, DARE officers are out and school resource officers are in.

Parents at first were upset by the county sheriff’s department decision to drop the widely used Drug Abuse Resistance Education program.

At Meredith Hill Elementary School in Auburn, which is part of the Federal Way school district in King County, parents initiated a letter-writing campaign when the sheriff’s office first talked of getting rid of DARE.

Terry Beck, a principal at the 520-student school, said parents were upset, but he added that, at the time, there was no plan to replace DARE with another program.

The 21,865-student district has its own drug- and alcohol-abuse curriculum, but it lacks certain features that DARE provides, Mr. Beck said, adding that the officers who run the program add credibility.

Nationwide, there has been growing discontent over DARE, which was started in 1983 by the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles school system.

The program calls for police officers to run a series of classroom lessons designed to teach students how to resist peer pressure and remain drug free. It has undergone nine major revisions since its inception and is now used in elementary, middle, and high schools.

In recent years, several law-enforcement agencies have dropped the program, including Seattle, and Omaha, Neb. And drug-abuse-prevention groups as well as researchers have given the program mixed reviews on effectiveness. (“New Guide Gives A’s to Six of 47 National Anti-Drug Programs,” June 12, 1996.)

Tough Decisions

In King County, the sheriff’s office was spending more than $400,000 a year running the DARE program in the 20 school districts it serves in the Seattle area.

Sheriff David G. Reichert said he believes that money would be better spent on resource officers that are also drawn from the sheriff’s department who would interact with students as counselors, teachers, and police officers.

John Urquhart, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office, said there was no estimate yet on how much the new program will cost, but he said the resource officers would be more cost-effective. “We’ll get more bang for the buck,” he said.

The decision to drop the program was difficult, Mr. Urquhart said. “We thought long and hard, and we took some heat,” he said. But with a tight budget, he said, the department wanted its money spent in the right place.

Phase Out

In Boulder, Colo., the DARE program will be phased out by the end of next month, but the program’s effectiveness, not its cost, was the deciding factor.

“Knowing the program’s track record and the fact that it was embraced by so many communities certainly gave us pause,” said Dick Reznick, the Boulder police officer who is leading the project that will replace DARE. Ultimately, research challenging the effectiveness of the program played a major role in Boulder’s decision, he said.

“The program outlived its usefulness,” Mr. Reznick said.

The Boulder Police Department employed two full-time officers to work with the 20 schools it served under DARE.

The department collaborated with area schools to create a new 10-lesson program called Cops in the Classroom, which it will begin using in the spring.

Still Popular

But DARE is hardly on the way out everywhere. In Pueblo, Colo., for example, educators remain supportive of the program.

“The national trend has been to take a more critical look at the program,” said Kent Burger, the principal at Sunset Park Elementary School in Pueblo.

Mr. Burger, however, said he believes that DARE helps his students build a relationship with the police.

“I’ve seen the benefits of the program, and if it saves one child, then I would call DARE successful,” he said.

More than 26 million students go through DARE programs each year, and it is used by more than 80 percent of school districts, according to Ralph Lochridge, a spokesman for DARE America, a national nonprofit group based in Inglewood, Calif.

Last year, 1,000 law enforcement agencies began using dare, according to the group.

“Communities adopt different programs to suit their needs,” Mr. Lochridge said.

The program is not a silver bullet, Mr. Lochridge acknowledged. “If they think [DARE] is going to cure the nation’s drug problem, they’re wrong--that’s too high of an expectation for any program.”

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A version of this article appeared in the January 20, 1999 edition of Education Week as Discontented, Some Districts Shifting Gears on Anti-Drug Programs


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