BY KRISTI FISH | MIRROR REPORTER — A full revamp of drug-prevention education and programming is underway at Maumee City Schools.
For several decades, universities and other organizations have examined the effectiveness of D.A.R.E., or the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program. The staff at Maumee schools and in the police department agreed with the findings.
“D.A.R.E. is not working, arresting people is not working to solve the drug problem, so I wanted to focus on the prevention side to see what we can do to prevent or at least drastically reduce these problems in the future,” said Maumee Police Chief Josh Sprow.
The new way to do this will be through L.E.A.D., or Law Enforcement Against Drugs, which Sprow described as an evidence-based drug-prevention program for students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
MCS interim Assistant Superintendent Matt Dick said the major difference between D.A.R.E. and L.E.A.D. is that the former relied more heavily on fear and the consequences rather than providing the students with the skills to make better choices.
“L.E.A.D. is not just a drug- and alcohol-prevention program, L.E.A.D. helps develop the skills in the kids to give them the confidence to make good decisions,” Dick said. “It talks about things like peer pressure, goal setting and making good decisions. They also still talk about the effects of alcohol use and the effects of nicotine use and such, but the intent is to develop the skills and the confidence in the kids to make decisions. It’s not just fear-based.”
The approach, Dick said, is different than what was previously done through D.A.R.E. by keeping the students educated and well-prepared.
Another change involves the personnel leading the program. Throughout the country, many school and community drug-prevention programs are led and taught by police officers, even when it is not always their area of expertise.
“Why did we ever have cops teaching it? It’s not our function,” Sprow said.
Studies held by independent recovery programs, the American Psychological Association and universities found D.A.R.E. to have had little to no effect, or to even be counterproductive.
Some critics of the program suggested the issue was with police officers leading the program. When D.A.R.E. first began, it was used as part of the War on Drugs in the 1980s and, in some cases, followed the “scared straight” tactics before being revamped, Sprow explained.
Even after changes to the program occurred, its effectiveness was still questioned, including questions about why police officers – not trained addiction recovery specialists, counselors and educators – were the ones leading the program.
“Both of our new employees have specific backgrounds in counseling and drug education,” Sprow said. “That’s what they do.”
To help implement the new program, two prevention and community outreach coordinators (PCOC) have been hired. They are not police officers; instead, they have experience in drug-abuse prevention as educators or social workers.
One of the new hires, Abby Schroeder, is a social worker who has worked with juveniles exposed to drugs or other dangerous substances. The other, Evie Stroud, is a former teacher and trained counselor.
The two new hires will teach the L.E.A.D. program to the students in kindergarten through 12th grade and focus on varying topics, including drug and alcohol prevention, online presence, dating violence and other age-appropriate topics.
The school resource officers (SROs) will still be participating in the program as well, so the officers will be able to fill in for the PCOCs when necessary throughout the year.
Maumee Police Sgt. Paul LaPlante was a former SRO and now helps with the SROs and PCOCs, so he has maintained a relationship between the schools and the department. Implementing L.E.A.D. and bringing in the PCOCs is one of the best things the school and department have collaborated on, he said.
“This is just another way to do outreach for kids in the district. It’s something we’re super-excited about and our counselors are doing a really good job. We’re really happy with them,” LaPlante said.
Additionally, the two PCOCs will review police reports regarding opioid- and stimulant-related calls within Maumee. Any calls that show exposure to these situations for children will be flagged.
“They will be developing a caseload with kids who have been identified here in our community that they have had some type of negative exposure to opioids or stimulants, and then they’ll work on getting them the resources they need,” Sprow said.
LaPlante emphasized the importance of the PCOCs as resources for students and families in the area. He said the two PCOCs are involved in the education and implementation of the program in the classroom, along with providing necessary resources and taking part in the drug take-backs.
“Our L.E.A.D. program and our counselors act independently from the police department,” LaPlante said. “We want them to be a resource to families who have opiate problems or know of opiate problems. We don’t want people to think you can’t talk to the counselor because she’ll run back to the police and do a police report. That’s not the goal. Besides the education component, they are a resource for families that are affected by opiates.”
Hiring two new professionals and implementing new programming throughout the school district, however, is not cheap. Funding came from a grant that Sprow applied for, working closely with other professionals.
A 2021 Comprehensive Opioid, Stimulant and Substance Abuse Program grant for $599,650 was awarded to the city of Maumee after a long application process.
The grant, through the Bureau of Justice Assistance with the United States Department of Justice, allows the PCOCs to implement the new evidence-based drug-prevention program and take on a caseload while also allowing Maumee police to expand its drug take-back program.
It is a three-pronged approached, Sprow said, that will be under scrutiny to validate the success of the program. The police department is working with professionals at two universities, Bowling Green State University and the University of North Florida, to pull off the project.
Dr. John Boman of BGSU has a background in sociology and criminology, and his area of expertise in drug research includes opioids. He is serving as the principal investigator and research team lead. He said those named in the grant are working together to create an effective prevention program and hold each other accountable.
“The grant is what I would probably describe as a cutting-edge and aggressive attempt to get in front of the opioid crisis in the city of Maumee,” Boman said. “It’s putting help first. It’s putting social services and prevention on the front end of things, which is very, very uncommon.”
The rapid intervention with social services for the children affected is one of the most important things the city of Maumee can do, he said.
He also credits Patrick Burtch, Maumee’s city administrator; the mayor’s office; and other city staff with helping implement this project.
“The city of Maumee should be proud they’re running this project,” Boman lauded.
While Boman and the rest of his team will maintain constant data collection to better evaluate the L.E.A.D. program’s effectiveness, Sprow will also be required to go to Washington, D.C., to report on the status of the project.
The grant is only for two years, and Sprow and Boman are aware it will be under national scrutiny, so they hope to make the best of it in the time they have, aiming to improve the lives of Maumee residents.
“It’s outside-the-box thinking and it’s hopefully going to work,” Boman said.
As for the schools, Dick said he has received positive feedback and the students are happy with the materials and activities they’re doing in the classrooms. He said it’s still early, but he is pleased with the direction things are moving.
“The cooperation between the Maumee Police Department and the Maumee City Schools is what makes this happen,” Dick said. “The Maumee Police Department has been so involved with our students. We’re very fortunate to live in this community because of this really good partnership. Without this cooperation that we have, this wouldn’t be happening.”