The decisions to cease a police officer-based drug education program executed in the Rockwood School District since 1988 was reversed at the June 16 board of education meeting.
The reversal was a reaction to expressed and through phone calls, e-mails and letters after district administrators announced the of the popular Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program on May 12. Rockwood's drug education committee members now indicate they will approach the program's evaluation differently.
Prior to a presentation at the June 16 meeting from the committee of administrators and principals—including some new members—Rockwood's Board of Education President Steve Smith recognized "the regular visitors" who have been attending board meetings due to their interest in D.A.R.E. "We will hear from you during the patron comments portion of the meeting," he said. "But I think you will discover we have heard you as well."
Committee chair Karen Hargadine called the newest presentation a D.A.R.E. program update from "a preliminary committee investigation." However, the that was scheduled but not presented at the June 2 board meeting indicated a very definite—and different—approach to Rockwood's future drug education efforts.
"This is definitely a committee about the danger of substance abuse. Drug education is not being dropped, but changed into an expanded program," she said. Hargadine is Rockwood’s new executive director of pre-kindergarten and elementary education.
She said committee members believed the future program would offer greater opportunities to provide more positive relationships for students with adult role models.
In addition to Hargadine, committee members include Prevention Services Coordinator Ken McManus; Meg Brooks, the former principal of and current principal of ; Jane Brown, principal of ; and Amy Digman, principal of .
It was announced that committee members had met on June 15, the day prior to the board meeting, with police officers representing various municipalities within the school district. They said they wanted to "tap into many community resources," as well as to "invite stakeholders into committee meetings."
"It’s extremely important to keep lines of communication open and to be transparent about something so near and dear to our hearts. Students should always be first in our thoughts," said one of the four presenters.
But students, parents, grandparents, police officers, law enforcement experts and industry professionals have said they felt the about a committee's evaluation of the D.A.R.E. program was concerning and unacceptable.
Rockwood director Matt Doell emphasized that D.A.R.E. may not be the same program next year, per the changes and upgrades that already were under way to the program's content and curriculum.
Committee members said they had "discussed that very aspect."
One D.A.R.E. representative based in Missouri, Elizabeth "B.J." McConnell, flew back from a business trip solely to attend the June 16 meeting. She serves as the deputy director for education for D.A.R.E., and lives in the St. Louis area. In response to Doell's questions about alterations to D.A.R.E., she explained that she and other D.A.R.E. organizers had just worked on the new program for four straight days.
McConnell noted that D.A.R.E.'s new dimension resulted from professionals at Pennysvlania State University working with social and emotional theories. "They've developed a new, very strong decision-making model. The new D.A.R.E. curriculum is meant to enhance, not replace, comprehensive health programs," said McConnell.
"Drug education can work like a hand in a glove, unless parents aren’t involved, then it’s like clapping with one hand."
She said Rockwood may be able to be one of the national test sites for the new D.A.R.E. curriculum. Hargadine said she thinks there is "a making of a great partnership."
Director Keith Kinder asked what any substance prevention program for Rockwood would do for middle and high school students.
The committee led by Hargadine is developing a plan for continued substance abuse education for all elementary grades, not just fifth grade. She said the new committee will include not only educators and administrators but also police, community agencies and parents.
The essential components of D.A.R.E. and the purpose of the D.A.R.E. program are not being dropped, but changed into an expanded model of drug prevention, Hargadine said.
Per the committee's presentation, the current rationale is changing this program from a one-year, fifth grade emphasis to a multi-grade, integrated approach will
provide a greater opportunity to build student relationships with area police officers and community members.
While D.A.R.E. will continue for another school year as Rockwood's primary drug abuse prevention program, committee leaders indicated they wanted to expand the program into covering other topics, such as citizenship, safety, personal health and wellness, fitness, cyberbullying, peer pressure, and community service.