Pubdate: Wed, 29 Sep 2010
Source: News-Times, The (Danbury, CT)
Copyright: 2010 The News-Times
Author: Eileen FitzGerald, Staff Writer


BETHEL --Eleven-year-old Lauren Messert wants to save the drug
education program she thinks works, so she's circulating a petition to
reinstate DARE a year after she took the course.

The Bethel Middle School sixth-grader has collected more than 500
signatures of Bethel parents, teachers and students and hopes to use
the petition to show the Police Commission that the drug education
program should not be cut.

The Police Department said staffing needs required eliminating the
program Youth Officer Ralph DeLuca taught to fifth-graders in the
second half of the school year, running half-hour classes for 10 weeks.

"Most people signed the petition. I figured a lot of people would.
It's a program you really need to keep kids off alcohol and drugs,"
Lauren said Wednesday. "It allows children to make the choice. Officer
DeLuca does everything he can to help educate us and then the kids
have to decide."

Now, the plan is for DeLuca to continue as the youth officer, which
means visiting the four elementary and middle schools as the liaison
between the elementary schools and the police department.

Lauren was glad for the chance to create a petition.

"You're able to voice our opinion," she said. "It's the first time I
ever did this."

There is a Facebook page set up to save the Drug Abuse Resistance
Education program in Bethel, and there might be another petition
floating around. The plan is for people to attend the Oct. 20 Police
Commission meeting and ask them to reinstate the program.

Lauren's mother, Annette, said her daughter asked what she could to
try to save the program.

"She has a real feeling for it," her mother said. "All the kids love
Detective DeLuca. We don't understand why they are taking it away. She
came home very excited about the program. These kids have to make
their own decision, but if you give them the tools to make the right
decision, they can."

Police Chief Jeff Finch was not available for comment.

Superintendent Gary Chesley said he heard about the

"I'm glad she's learned enough to be able to stand up and have a
productive way to put forth her idea," Chesley said.

He said he was continuing to work out a routine for DeLuca to work
with the schools, and until he hears something differently, he would
continue on that tack.

"It was not my decision," Chesley said. "I'm trying to support the
town as best I can."

DeLuca said he was proud that the kids were supporting the

"I'm thrilled that an alumnae of the program is so supportive. It
tells me the child was reached by the program, and (that) is what I
think is the value of the program," DeLuca said. "I think it's great
that young people know how a democracy works, and when you believe in
something you should stand up for it."  
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