Shifting Focus: D.A.R.E Drops Marijuana from curriculum


Ben Reiser

D.A.R.E. will be dropping marijuana education in order to focus more on informing elementary students about tobacco and alcohol.

The Drug Abuse Resistance Education program (better known as D.A.R.E.) will no longer include information regarding marijuana as part of its standard elementary school curriculum, a change from past years when part of a day of instruction was devoted to education about the drug.

Due to this change, Westport students will no longer receive formal education from D.A.R.E. officers about the substance, which is, in fact, one of the most commonly used drugs among Staples students. According to a 2009 Inklings survey, half of Staples students had used the drug at least once.

Health classes in Westport middle schools—as well as at Staples—do cover marijuana in their curriculum; however, the police-lead course will no longer cover the topic with 5th grade classes.

D.A.R.E. posted a statement on their website regarding the curriculum change.

“A wealth of research data substantiates the two most common and dangerous drugs with which elementary aged students have knowledge or familiarity are alcohol and tobacco,” the organization said, as it explained how more focus would be geared toward these two drugs.

Further, according to Westport Police and D.A.R.E. officer Ned Batlin, only 15 minutes of class time was originally devoted to marijuana in the curriculum, for the same reasons the now have caused the same drug to be expunged from the program altogether.

“My focus is on decision-making. If you’re going to make good decisions in general, you’ll make good decisions about marijuana,” said Batlin, who added that he will gladly answer any specific questions students may have about marijuana.

David Gusitsch, the 6-12 Physical Education and Health Department Chair and Curriculum Coordinator, echoed Batlin’s opinion, citing the importance in teaching the skills which lead to good decision-making.

Batlin pointed out that marijuana is still a dangerous drug, citing several studies that say it increases the risk of testicular cancer by twice as much. In addition, according to Forbes, marijuana decreases fertility for women and men. There are several other health issues unrelated to reproduction as well.

“Elementary school-aged kids don’t have a concept of what marijuana even is,” Batlin said. “It would be more typical to have exposure, if not direct usage, to at least seeing someone such as a parent utilizing alcohol or tobacco.”

Responses to D.A.R.E.’s change were mixed among Staples students and faculty. For instance, health teacher Kelly Garrity agreed with D.A.R.E.’s decision.

“I too feel that marijuana may not be an age-appropriate topic of discussion among fifth graders, but do see its importance within the middle and high school health curriculum,” she said. “To me, it seems that marijuana was never really a major topic of discussion within the fifth grade D.A.R.E. program to begin with.”

Given that only about half of a lesson was devoted to marijuana, enough time to teach relevant information but not enough time to be considered a key component of the course, Gusitsch said that he doesn’t “think [marijuana] had as much of an impact as people say” in the D.A.R.E. fifth grade program. He did, however, feel that both sides of the argument are logical and both are acceptable course outlines.

Jack Friedman ’16 had an opposing position: “I think that they shouldn’t have cut the pot education from the curriculum, because people need to learn about what [the drug] does to people and why not to take it.”

“They might as well get rid of all the other drugs from their curriculum and just hand out the t-shirts,” joked Remy Bonett ’14 in agreement with Friedman.

David Raice ’15 thought a bit differently.

“I think people usually forget or don’t care about D.A.R.E. a few years after they finish it, so it might not make a big difference,” Raice said. “But kids might start doing it at a younger age.”

Several school nurses, however, were against the decision.

“It’s a really unfortunate circumstance, and just not a good idea,” school nurse Diane Bosch said. “Marijuana impairs judgement; it won’t be legal in any state for long.”

Fellow nurse Susanne Bookbinder agreed: “Marijuana has a deleterious effect on brain function and development,” she said.

Moving forward, D.A.R.E.—at least at the fifth grade level—won’t change too much. The core concepts will remain, as they have for some time—alcohol, drugs and decision-making, based on things like not giving in to peer pressure, not doing drugs in general and choosing good friends.