Some Rockwood School District parents say they are heading to the Rockwood Board of Education meeting this evening. But they are not going due to something that is on the agenda. Instead, they plan to voice their concerns about the district's cancellation of the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program (D.A.R.E.).
As exclusively reported Friday on Eureka-Wildwood Patch, when Rockwood officials told police department heads at a Thursday afternoon meeting the traditional D.A.R.E. program would be eliminated for future school years. Patch sites also were the first to share the by late Friday evening.
During a recent segment on KSDK-TV Channel 5, it was reported a reason for eliminating D.A.R.E. was that police officers no longer could execute the program. Since inquiring from last week onward, Patch could not verify through police departments which, if any, had planned not to participate, though. In fact, local police representatives said they were just as surprised by the program being eliminated and that they believe D.A.R.E. is beneficial to area youth.
However, just this morning, Kim Cranston, Rockwood chief communications officer, said it was Chesterfield Police Department representatives who had indicated to the district they no longer would be able to provide a D.A.R.E. officer.
Chief Michael Wiegand, who initiated the D.A.R.E. program in St. Louis County with the district in 1988, said Thursday's meeting included the St. Louis County Police-Wildwood 6th Precinct, St. Louis County Police-Fenton 5th Precinct, St. Louis County Police-West County 7th Precinct, Ballwin Police Department, Ellisville Police Department, as well as his own in Eureka. He said all of the attending police teams provide D.A.R.E. officers to Rockwood schools.
Through yet a different model of collaboration, Wildwood city council members have covered the cost of D.AR.E. materials to Rockwood schools in that municipality for the past few years.
Out of Rockwood's 19 elementary schools, three are based in Eureka, four are based in Wildwood, three are based in Ballwin, two are in Ellisville, four are in Fenton and three are in Chesterfield. Additionally, both locations for the Center of Creative Learning are based in Ellisville.
Eureka resident Julie Ziesemann, now a Rockwood parent but former D.A.R.E. graduate herself, said she hopes Rockwood officials will reconsider their position and decision about the program. She has been collecting comments and concerns from other Rockwood parents.
The open session portion of tonight's Rockwood Board of Education meeting begins at 8 p.m. It is only during that portion that patron comments can be heard. The meeting is being held at Crestview Middle School in Ellisville.
John Lindsay, DARE Americas vice president of development, said cancellations of D.A.R.E. programs do not appear to be any large national trend, even though budget challenges certainly are trickling from federal to state to local municipalities. He is responsible for D.A.R.E. activities in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. He said in fact D.A.R.E. programs in at least three of his states have grown this past year.
As a former police officer, Lindsay said budgets are about moving dollars around, but they also are about setting priorities. "If a police chief decides not to provide a D.A.R.E. officer any longer but puts her and him back out on patrol, that is not a cost savings to the department. It merely is an indication of communicating priorities, and is about officers doing something reactive, such as writing tickets, compared to something proactive, such as teaching drug prevention," he said.
Lindsay said effective drug-related education programs take at least a year to develop from a science- and research-based program. He said it also takes two to three years to study a new program and determine its effectiveness. "So I would wonder what type of research-based alternative program Rockwood has in mind, if they are going to implement something new next school year."
He also said non-researched, thoughtful drug abuse resistance programs potentially can cause children more harm than good, and open up the deliverers of the program to liabilities.