DARE program

In this file photo, members of the Belle Plaine Police Department and school district leadership congratulated fifth grade students graduating from the DARE program.

Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE), an anti-drug education program that first made its way into Belle Plaine’s elementary education in 1992, has been discontinued.

The program, which has brought an officer from the Belle Plaine Police Department to teach grade schoolers about various substances, peer pressure and other risk abatement strategies surrounding drugs and alcohol, was funded solely through city, not school district, tax dollars.

The possibility of canceling the program was first brought up at a joint meeting between representatives of the City of Belle Plaine, the Belle Plaine School Board and the Belle Plaine Police Department last July. The purpose of the joint meeting, initiated by the City of Belle Plaine, was to hold conversations about the possibility of adding a full-time school resource officer to the district. Such an officer had never been funded by the school district, and the groups sought to hash out the theoretical logistics and funding of such an officer.

Citing growing call numbers throughout Belle Plaine, Police Chief Tom Stolee noted that continuing the DARE program may not be sustainable if not for the addition of a full-time police officer at July’s meeting.

“If they’re comfortable with what they have, we have to accept that,” Stolee told the Herald on Monday. “I can’t throw my will at another person. No matter what, if we get called to the school, no matter what school district building we have, obviously we’re going to respond, and we have.”

At the July meeting, Belle Plaine Mayor Chris Meyer noted that the city did not plan on adding an additional officer to the city’s police force until next year or the year after, but he noted he would be open to pushing that addition to a closer date to facilitate the addition of a resource officer.

When asked about the growing nationwide concerns about vaping in school and the timing of discontinuing the DARE program, Stolee emphasized that he believes his force is well versed dealing with juveniles’ position of substances and lauded the department’s TruNarc, their handheld electronic narcotics analyzer.

“Obviously, that is a concern, and they can always call us,”  Stolee said. “We have a zero tolerance. I wish we had somebody in the schools. I wish we had somebody teaching DARE, but it’s not up to me. We are always here, and we’re willing to answer any and all questions.”

Belle Plaine Public Schools Superintendent Ryan Laager stated that while he is disappointed the DARE program will not make a return this year, he respects Stolee’s decision and emphasized that the decision did not come from the school, given that the school does not fund the program.

Laager added that the addition of social-emotional learning programs that challenge students to understand their emotions as well as interpersonal relationships like “Move This World” at the secondary level, which the district rolled out this year, are designed to combat the emotional factors that contribute to substance abuse and, by extension, supplement at least a portion of what the DARE program offered. Laager added, however, that replacing the DARE program with something similar is a possibility.

“If DARE is going away and we don’t have an option for that, are there some drug resistance programs we can offer?” Laager said. “Those are things we’ll spend time looking at. We more than welcome the DARE program be offered,” Laager added.

The addition of vape sensors into the junior/senior high school bathrooms, as well as a revision of the disciplinary process for those students caught vaping, were among the measures Laager believes will combat the use of illicit substances in school.

Stolee, who has been publicly supporting the addition of a  school resource officer for around two years, stated he is disappointed that the DARE program is ending but said that without an additional officer dedicated for an in-school presence and without the district “welcoming” one of his officers, he does not feel spreading  his resources would be best for  the city or the students in the district.

“It’s not personal with me. It’s the business that I have to follow,” Stolee said.

Both Stolee and Laager separately stated that they are open to dialogue pertaining to the DARE program. Members of the Belle Plaine School Board were not reached out to, in time for publication of this story.

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