Pubdate: Thu, 1 July 1999
Source: Atlantic City Press (NJ)
Copyright: 1999 South Jersey Publishing Co.
Author: Michael Miller, Staff Writer


Police and opponents differ about the effectiveness of Drug Abuse
Resistance Education.

OCEAN CITY -- The school district's drug-resistance program distorts
the facts about drugs but does not curb drug use among its graduates,
opponents of the program said.

Dr. Steven Fenichel of Ocean City and Clifford Thornton Jr. of
Windsor, Conn., on Wednesday asked the Board of Education to consider
alternatives to the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program that has
been taught in its schools since 1991.

In the nationwide program, police officers come into the classroom to
teach students about the dangers of drugs and ways to resolve
conflicts without violence.

While the program has come under tough scrutiny since its inception in
1983, as many as 75 percent of districts around the country use it,
according to the U.S Department of Justice.

"People will say, `If we reach one child, it's worth it,"' Thornton
said. "Would you accept a geography or literature or math program that
only reaches one child? I don't think so."

Thornton is president of Efficacy, a national nonprofit organization
dedicated to reducing drug use and to crime prevention, the same goals
as DARE.

But Thornton said DARE is just one part of the country's losing war on

"Today, children have easier access to illegal drugs than tobacco or
alcohol," he said. "I'd like to see that access limited."

Fenichel said studies have shown little difference in drug use between
DARE graduates and students who did not participate in the program.

State Police Sgt. Wayne Shelton, who supervises the community policing
unit, said the program he oversees in 38 southern New Jersey districts
has been successful overall.

"It comes down, unfortunately, to a battle of studies," he said. "Some
positive for DARE, some negative."

Both police and the DARE opponents presented packets of information
supporting or denouncing the program.

"I don't understand. If we're doing such a terrible job, why have I
received hundreds of requests for our program?" Shelton asked.

He said the program would be more effective if it were expanded so
students could spend more time reinforcing the message.

Board member Michael Zerbe noted the distinction between parents' and
students' apparent satisfaction with the program and its actual
effectiveness in keeping children away from drugs.

"What good does it do for a child to know about the hazards of a
dangerous substance if it doesn't stop them from using it?" he asked.

Fenichel said by lumping all illegal drugs together into a
zero-tolerance policy, students would be more likely to think
so-called hard drugs are less dangerous than they are.

Fenichel also accused Ocean City police of using a DARE question box
to solicit information about illegal activity, a claim police said was
absolutely untrue.

"The DARE box is not used as an investigational tool," Shelton said.
"It builds a bond between an officer and the children. I don't believe
the best way (to do that) is to arrest their parents."

Most board members expressed their continued support for the program,
which was expanded this year to seventh grade.

The animosity between Fenichel, who has lobbied for the forum for two
years, and some board members was readily apparent. Gail Thompson
promptly cut Fenichel off in mid-sentence after his allotted 30
minutes, pounded her gavel and ordered the meeting adjourned.

Meanwhile, most of Fenichel's comments were directed not to the board,
but to audience members.
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