Placer's D.A.R.E. gets cut

Budget woes force sheriff to cancel the program for this year
By: Joyia Emard, Loomis News Staff Writer
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State budget cuts have forced the Placer County Sheriff’s Department to choose public safety over drug education and local kids are missing out. Placer sheriffs cancelled the D.A.R.E program for the current school year, saving the department $400,000, said Sgt. John Weaver. The department had conducted the program for 17 years at schools in Loomis, Colfax and all of unincorporated Placer County. “We are not abandoning our commitment to keep youth drug free, but public safety has to take priority,” Weaver said. Weaver is the supervisor of community and youth services for the department. He said he was “heartbroken” about losing D.A.R.E. “I thought it was a very good program and a tool for youth and law enforcement to interact,” he said. Weaver said no officers lost their jobs with the termination of the anti-drug program, but instead they were reassigned. D.A.R.E. is an acronym for drug abuse resistance education. The program is a cooperative effort between law enforcement and schools that, according to the D.A.R.E. Website, “gives kids the skills they need to avoid involvement in drugs, gangs, and violence.” This year, sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders in the Loomis Union School District missed out on D.A.R.E. training. Normally, sixth-graders participate in an eight-week curricular course taught by a trained sheriff’s officer. Students learn the affects of drugs and ways to resist peer pressure. “I think some kids will say ‘yes’ to drugs in high school because they didn’t have D.A.R.E,” said Randy Hunkins, 13, an Ophir Elementary School seventh-grader. Randy completed D.A.R.E. last year and recalls students participated in activities such as wearing “drunk goggles,” which simulated the experience of being intoxicated. “You’d reach for something and you’d miss it, or try and walk straight and you couldn’t,” Randy said of wearing the goggles. Ophir seventh-grader Zac Campbell, 13, said, “Doing drugs can be bad for you, especially doing marijuana.” Zac said Deputy Laurie Bettencourt was his school’s D.A.R.E. officer. He said she was “really nice” and he would feel comfortable talking to her about a problem. Seventh-grader Lindsey Guevel, 12, said the current class of sixth-graders is missing out. “They should learn this stuff because it’s important. They need to be able to make the right choices. It’s something they should know,” Lindsey said. Andy Withers, Penryn Elementary School principal, said the schools are doing what they can to educate students about drugs. “Each of our district schools is having Karen Green from the Placer County Peer Court system come to speak to students and families about drug use. At Penryn, we have a sixth- through eighth-grade parent information night and grade level student presentations,” Withers said. Placer Elementary School principal Carolyn Cowles said her school may also do a parent education program on the “escalating amount of ‘pharm parties,’ sexting and marijuana use that we have seen in our community.” “It has been almost impossible to replicate the quality of the D.A.R.E. program. We miss it,” Cowles said. Weaver was asked if he thought the D.A.R.E. program would ever be reinstated. “I always hope,” he said.