Lufkin's D.A.R.E. program hits the chopping block

and Staff

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) – Lufkin school officials have made the tough decision to cut the district's only comprehensive anti-drug program.

"The D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistant Education) program is definitely out.  Sadly, we have to make some tough decisions in the wake of a new round of federal cuts.  Our most recent notification indicates that LISD stands to lose another one-half million dollars in title program cuts," said Roy Knight, LISD Superintendent.

Knight made the announcement during Thursday night's board meeting.  "Actually, the program lost its federal funding last year, however, LISD decided to carry it through this school year.   Now we've got to face reality.  It's all about affordability.  The program has been effective for LISD.  It touched every one of our kids.  It's a shame we can no longer afford it," said Knight.

Just last month, 400 Angelina County students celebrated the start of a drug free life as they graduated from what now appears to be the last class for the D.A.R.E. program.  Officer Ben Vaughan taught the weekly one hour classes.  Students in five area elementary schools participated.  The main focus of the lessons was to promote a drug free lifestyle and alternative to drug use, however, the fifth graders also learned to address peer pressure.

Barbara Lazarine, Principal, Anderson Elementary described the program this way, "This is the time where boys and girls are beginning to make decisions and be exposed to a little bit more peer pressure. And, it enables them to develop skills on how to deal with that. And, it enables them to make decisions about drugs and alcohol, based on relevant information."

"Lufkin is one of the last districts in Angelina County to lose the D.A.R.E. program.  The other schools, with the exception of Diboll ISD, were forced to make the cut several years ago," said Knight.

"We will now have to evaluate the program's future in Diboll," said Gary Martel, Superintendent, D-I-S-D.  "When Lufkin was participating, of course, it made it easier for us to participate.  We will now have to meet with officer Vaughan as we decide what to do.  So, now I would say the future of the D.A.R.E. program in Diboll is uncertain."

Martel said Diboll ISD has several character programs in place to help compensate for the loss of the D.A.R.E. program, if D.A.R.E. has to be eliminated.  He said the school board will be able to make a better decision once budget talks begin in earnest next month.  "We actually cut it last year when we lost funding for it, but we were able to find funding and later put it back under the budget for one of our campuses."  Diboll's contribution to the D.A.R.E. program is $6,000.

Vaughan, a retired Lufkin Police officer, had been the driving force behind the program for more than 20 years.  He is a firm believer that education is the key in the fight against illegal drug use.  "Marijuana use nationally is on an increase. It hasn't gone up much lately, but it is up from where it was in the past. That is one of the things that we talk about in the D.A.R.E. Program because marijuana, along with tobacco and alcohol, is one of the gateway drugs where people experiment," Vaughan said during a television interview in May.

The elimination of the D.A.R.E. program could be a sign of more cuts to come.  According to Knight, LISD is facing an overall 2 million dollar budget deficit, so there are many more hard decisions to make.  "That's why LISD joined the fight to get equitable funding for our rural schools.  We've literally robbed from the poor so the wealthy can keep more of theirs.  There is an inherent inequity in the current funding system," said Knight.

More than 500 Texas school districts, representing about 3.3 million children, are now suing the state.  The lawsuit alleges the current system does not provide enough money for schools and distributes funds unfairly.

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