By Brenda Flanagan
New Jersey boasts one of the nation’s top notch education systems, but growing up here exposes even middle school students to some very gritty realities, and prevention programs like D.A.R.E. must acknowledge that, says its director Nick DeMauro.
“We have a heroin problem in this state. We have kids dying throughout the state of New Jersey,” said DeMauro. “We have a big debate going on about medicinal marijuana and legalizing marijuana. We have to educate our kids more.”
DeMauro says D.A.R.E. New Jersey’s got a proven curriculum for fifth- and sixth-graders, called “Too Good for Drugs.” Lesson plans discuss alcohol and tobacco, but also take an unflinching look at marijuana, aerosol huffing, and heroin. A recent study concluded “Too Good for Drugs” had “…a suppressive effect on reported drug use behavior” among sixth-graders. Basically, that means the curriculum works.
“The TGFD has been around for 20 years. It’s very well researched. The Department of Education has said it was one of the best programs. It’s one of the top five curriculums in the country,” said Allan Cohen, researcher for the Institute for Research and Evaluation.
Despite the kudos and accolades, “Too Good for Drugs” is not the teaching plan approved by the parent organization, D.A.R.E. America, which owns the D.A.R.E. brand. D.A.R.E. America banned TGFD and ordered D.A.R.E. NJ to teach a totally different, brand new curriculum, called “Keepin’ it REAL,” which emphasizes alcohol and tobacco and doesn’t mention drugs at all.
Jersey educators just said no.
“We need to be talking with 11- and 12-year-olds about what’s out there,” said Executive Director of the New Jersey Association of School Administrators Richard Bozza.
New Jersey’s Association of School Administrators says the teachers and the cops all refused to teach D.A.R.E. America’s “Keepin’ it REAL.”
“Well, it’s never been tested, number one. Number two, it doesn’t meet our core curriculum content standards, which require that we take a look at more than just alcohol and tobacco, that we have to take a look at marijuana and other drugs,” said Bozza.
DeMauro says the debate between the D.A.R.E.s turned toxic. Noxious emails flew. They all lawyered up and sued.
Finally, a judge decided it’s D.A.R.E. America’s brand and they control the curriculum. But she urged the dueling D.A.R.E.s to find a compromise.
D.A.R.E. officers taught the “Too Good for Drugs” program across New Jersey last year. One cop told me the lessons got his students excited and engaged. He says, they’d laugh at the D.A.R.E. America curriculum.
But in a statement, D.A.R.E. America’s Skip Miller said, “‘Too Good For Drugs’ was not approved and was in fact rejected by D.A.R.E. America a couple years ago. D.A.R.E. NJ is therefore required to use ‘Keepin’ it REAL,’ which is the national program used in all 50 states.”
Maybe just 49 states.
“It’s really important we educate our kids on relevant issues they face on a day-to-day basis,” said DeMauro.
DeMauro says D.A.R.E. NJ is seriously considering other options.