Current federal law contains a number of provisions regarding student drug education and counseling which are, in fact, counterproductive in achieving their stated goals. For example, the single largest government-funded drug education program, D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education), has been repeatedly shown to be ineffective in reducing drug use among its participants. This fact is an unfortunate consequence of a number of provisions of law which, in reality, serve to alienate students from their teachers and drug education counselors and make them more susceptible to patterns of drug abuse.
Most federal policy regarding student drug education and counseling is contained in what is now known as the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act (SDFSCA) . Originally enacted in 1986 as the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act, its purpose was ?to expand and strengthen drug and alcohol abuse education and prevention programs in communities throughout the nation.? In its current form, it mainly provides federal assistance to states for the distribution of grants supporting educational programs to prevent drug use and violence.
The Failure of D.A.R.E.
The D.A.R.E. program is indicative of the fundamentally flawed drug education policy promoted by the SDFSCA. In creating a culture of fear and distrust between students and their drug counselors, it undermines the open relationship necessary for students to ask candid questions and learn about the consequences of drug use. For example, D.A.R.E. employs uniformed police officers ? not health care professionals ? to teach students about drugs. Rather than providing students with science-based information about drugs, the students are scared with horror stories about drug addiction. They are told to avoid drugs because of the legal and disciplinary consequences of their use by the same people who will send them to jail if they are caught.
Not surprisingly, in recent years the General Accounting Office, the Department of Education, and the U.S. Surgeon General have come to recognize the ineffectiveness of the D.A.R.E. program. Yet local D.A.R.E. programs still receive federal funds (directly or indirectly) and the SDFSCA still promotes drug education policies which break down the crucial trust between students and their educators needed for effective drug education.
Reforms Needed in SDFSCA
The SDFSCA contains a number of provisions which foster the harmful environment typified by the D.A.R.E. program. The following are several of the principal flaws in the SDFSCA which hinder the realization of an effective program of student drug education and counseling:
The SDFSCA is based on false assumptions.
- The law?s language repeatedly links ?drug use? and ?violence.? While violence is often associated with the black market trade of illicit drugs, drug use itself is nonviolent and should not be lumped together with the problem of school violence. Assertions of causal links between the two are tenuous at best. This attempt to combat drug use and violence simultaneously is intrinsically erroneous.
- It mistakenly asserts that delinquency and serious discipline problems are ?conditions and consequences? of drug use.
It undermines students’ relationships with authority figures.
- It requires local education agencies that submit applications to assure that their programs with ?convey a clear and consistent message that acts of violence and the illegal use of drugs are wrong and harmful.? Such judgmental messages in a drug education course tend to alienate students who may have already experimented with drugs from the teachers and counselors charged with helping them.
- It authorizes grantees to use provided funds for the installation of ?metal detectors, electric locks, surveillance cameras, or other related equipment or technologies.? Turning schools into prisons undermines the trust between students and teachers, making drug education and counseling all the more difficult.
- It allows grantees to use provided funds to perform random drug tests on students and inspect students? lockers for illegal drugs and paraphernalia. Again, such invasive measures only foster a culture of distrust and make effective drug education more difficult.
- It creates a toll-free hotline in which students can report drug use in their schools to the authorities. This cultivates an environment in which students are not only afraid to ask candid questions to their school drug counselors, but their peers as well.
It confuses the goal of effective drug education with that of law enforcement.
- It requires the Secretary of Education to consult with the Attorney General and the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy when using funds for national drug education programs. Again, such a link between drug education and law enforcement corrodes the trust between students and drug educators/counselors.
- It puts the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency and the Office of National Drug Control Policy on the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Advisory Committee. (See above.)
- It requires that states develop their grant applications in coordination with the head of the State criminal justice planning agency (among others). Mixing drug education and counseling programs with law enforcement agencies reduces the effectiveness of the programs. In doing so, it undermines the trust of students who may be afraid to approach teachers or counselors with candid questions about drugs or their drug problems for fear that they might be reported to law enforcement authorities.
It diverts funds needed for drug education into programs that punish at-risk students.
- It authorizes grantees to use funds for systems to transferring suspension and expulsion records. This is not only a misplacement of funds needed for real drug education and counseling, but it may even frustrate a student?s attempts to move beyond a previous expulsion and start fresh at a new school.
- It provides funds for programs in which expelled students are required to perform community service. Once again, this raises serious questions about whether this law is intended to help educate and counsel children about drugs or simply or to find new ways of sanctioning children who break drug laws.