District Seeks to Make Drug Program Optional

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School officials want to turn their anti-drug DARE program into a voluntary after-school activity, a move likely to dramatically cut participation.

John Palacio, president of the Santa Ana Unified School District board, said trustees support the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, but they want fifth- and sixth-grade students, who now attend hourlong DARE classes each week, to spend their entire day on academics.

“DARE needs to be balanced between the academic priorities,” he said.

Founded jointly by Los Angeles police and schools 13 years ago, DARE has grown into the leading juvenile anti-drug effort in the country, with programs in more than 5,000 communities.


But many experts say there are better ways to keep children from abusing drugs--such as providing more supervision and good role models and making sure they are engaged in constructive activities. A study this year by the state legislative analyst’s office found DARE did not keep children from using drugs. In fact, it found that suburban youngsters who took DARE were more likely than others to drink, smoke and take drugs.

“There’s tremendous amount of money invested in DARE with very little evidence it works,” said James Alan Fox, dean of the Northeastern University College of Criminal Justice in Boston.

Despite the negative reports, California is giving DARE $1 million this year to expand the program into higher grade levels. This marks the first time since 1996 the state has funded DARE.

Under the program, law enforcement agencies send trained officers to elementary and junior high schools to teach them about drugs and gangs and how to resist peer pressure. The officers use guidebooks and teaching plans the national DARE organization has developed. The program serves about 14,000 students a year in Orange County.