The Prince William County Police Department is dropping its long-standing DARE program, a national initiative to dissuade students from using drugs and alcohol, and replacing it with its own curriculum.
County police found that DARE, which stands for Drug and Alcohol Resistance Education, has an inflexible curriculum and no longer works with Prince William's changing demographics, County Executive Craig S. Gerhart said.
What worked in 1987, when the county adopted the DARE program, does not fit with the proliferation of gangs and Internet crimes in recent years, he said.
Some other communities across the region and country also have shelved DARE, which was deemed ineffective in a 2003 report by the General Accounting Office. The federal agency found that substance abuse did not differ between students who were exposed to DARE in the fifth or sixth grades and those who were not.
In Prince William, teachers seemed put off by DARE's restrictive 10-week program, which targets fifth-graders, Gerhart said. "Fewer and fewer elementary schools were doing DARE," Gerhart said.
Just a little more than half of the county's elementary schools were participating, he said.
Although DARE America, the national nonprofit organization, has created a new curriculum, the Prince William Police Department decided to go with its new program, Basic Elementary Addiction, Wellness & Abuse Resource Education (BE AWARE).
Police Chief Charlie T. Deane will address the Board of County Supervisors on the change at a meeting Tuesday.
The BE AWARE curriculum will begin this school year; 26 police officers already trained to teach students DARE will take the new program into schools.
The curriculum -- which includes gang awareness, Internet safety, conflict management, bullying prevention, stealing and drug and alcohol abstinence -- will be taught in kindergarten to fifth grade.
Gerhart said the program will not be limited to 10-week instruction as DARE is. "It's designed to be much more flexible," he said. "This is a 10-module program."
Police officers, principals and teachers will be able to tailor the program to individual schools that deal with different issues based on the community, according to a report by Deane.
"During the 2004-2005 year, the demographics of one elementary school was 63 percent Hispanic. The needs of this school are drastically different than those of another elementary school with different demographics," Deane wrote in his report.
Senior Trooper Gene Ayers of the Virginia State Police, the state coordinator of DARE, said he was disappointed to lose another Northern Virginia participant. "Several jurisdictions in Northern Virginia have pulled out," Ayers said.
DARE remains in just Manassas Park, Falls Church and Loudoun County, Ayers said. Across Virginia, DARE is taught in 105 out of 134 school districts, he said.
"DARE is still the most widely used prevention program in the world," he said. "I'm still convinced it's the best prevention program in the market."
Ayers said many police departments were swayed by the GAO report, which he said was unfair because it was based on surveys from 1994.
"We've found that there's a lot of positive impact," he said.