Although a presentation from Rockwood School District administrators about their to drug education was on the agenda for Thursday's Board of Education meeting, board president Steve Smith announced it was canceled just prior to the public comment portion of the meeting.
Nearly 80 local police officers, former Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) graduates, parents, police trainers and national law enforcement officials attended the meeting to hear the district's rationale for the recent program changes and to communicate their renewed plea for the D.A.R.E. program to be reinstated.
Smith told the crowd the new district representative now responsible for overseeing that area of curriculum, Director of Elementary Education Karen Hargadine, needed more time to address the matter. Hargadine has been the principal of since 2004 and has been employed by since 1997. She was not present at the meeting.
"We have new leadership in that department. Dr. Hargadine will be transitioning in the new role in the next couple of weeks," Smith said. "The drug education presentation will be moved to the June 16 agenda. We won't be taking any action on it tonight. While we can't promise what will happen next, my own intuition is that the outcome may be more palatable to those in attendance tonight."
The interim executive director of elementary schools was Jill Ramsey. Another Rockwood staffer instrumental in the district's drug education evaluation has been Carrie Luttrell, executive director of curriculum, instruction and assessment. She reports directly to Superintendent Bruce Borchers.
Smith said Rockwood's board members paid attention to the emails, letters, phone calls and comments made at regarding about eliminating the D.A.R.E. program in favor of a new approach that incorporates drug education into health classes throughout all elementary grade levels.
Ellisville Police Chief Tom Felgate said while he still thinks Rockwood is one of the finest school districts in the state because its representatives genuinely care about the students, he believes a "great disservice to the district's students and families had been done by dropping the D.A.R.E. program.
He stated that burglaries and stealing incidences are rising in West St. Louis County, due to heroin addictions. He said police and other public safety groups had believed since 1993 that drug prevention is critical for fifth and sixth graders, due to their retention levels at that age and to the amount of peer pressure applied at that time in their lives.
"Please keep D.A.R.E., and keep our kids off alcohol and drugs," he said.
Elizabeth McConnell, D.A.R.E. deputy director for education in the St. Louis region, said she was stunned and disappointed that Rockwood would consider changing the program. "I will work with anyone, anytime about D.A.R.E. I didn't know you were working on it at all," she said.
McConnell said D.A.R.E. staff was scheduled to begin rewriting parts of the program based on social/emotional learning techniques next week. She said the new dimension of D.A.R.E. had been developed by Pennsylvania State faculty and was furthering their recent "Keeping It Real" effort.
"If ever there was a time to drop D.A.R.E., it's not now," she said, citing the rising incidences of kiddy-flavored drugs.
She said 11 national organizations had reviewed and guided "every word that D.A.R.E. does."
She also said she thought it was important to note that the national research indicates police rank higher than classroom teachers as preferred drug prevention confidantes among elementary students. "I think we're putting too much pressure on our teachers to do everything in their classrooms. Please let us at D.A.R.E. be a part of your solution," she said.
St. Louis County Police Chief Tim Fitch, whose sons attend district schools, said he could only imagine how embarrassed the directors must be, regarding how this strained situation came about. "You probably had no idea it (elimination of D.A.R.E.) was going to be announced. Well, we're here tonight to help and to talk instead of just saying 'get out of our schools,' " he said.
Fitch said the county team of police officers would like to offer a compromise.
Through the recent Keeping It Real endeavor, he said all D.A.R.E. officers were about to get trained in the new methodologies and tools. "We're asking for one school year to allow us to transition to this new program," he said.
"Sure, it would be easier for me to put the four full-time D.A.R.E. officers back on patrol, but we see too many St. Louis County residents die from heroin. In fact, a lot of people are in denial about this problem here," he said. "My fear is that if we give up our time with our children, we won't get it back."
Fitch said that the same situation had happened with the Parkway School District. "They dropped the program, and said we'd be back, but it's been several years and we're still not back in Parkway," he said.
Sheldon Lineback, executive director of D.A.R.E. for Missouri, provided packets to each director regarding studies that demonstrate the program's effectiveness. "Every person who graduates from our two-week core program can teach about safety, drug education, cyber bullying, meth and games. We want to work with you to benefit the Rockwood students," he said.
Maryann Esser, a parent of a Selvidge Middle School and a Marquette student, said her neighborhood had benefited from Ballwin D.A.R.E. Officer Dan Hawk's assistance with a drug-related community problem. She said it happened due to the relationships that started in D.A.R.E.
Her husband, Ken, said he thought having D.A.R.E. was a no-brainer because he didn't believe it would work out well if students were expected to tell teachers about their peers, in essence "narcing on each other." He said he believes it takes a combination of internal and external resources at schools to handle drug prevention. "Let's get over this egoism, and the problems that come from focusing on whose more powerful than whom," he said.
Rockwood parent Lisa Richards Frank reminded the directors that when she was a student, Nancy Reagan said: 'Just say no' when it came to drugs. "That seems funny now, especially given that kids are seeing drugs sold and glorified on TV, in their music and in electronic games," she said. "I'm daring you to keep D.A.R.E., and daring you as board of directors to keep the best interests of our kids at heart."