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Commissioner Mary Callaghan has found another piece of clothing she doesn't like.

Last week it was swimsuits, this week it's T-shirts.Plans to buy T-shirts for the county's DARE program were put on hold Wednesday by Callaghan, who said she hasn't "seen any proof that T-shirts fight drug use."

But backers of the program say the black and red T-shirts are to DARE what diplomas are to colleges.

"They (the students) work their hearts out for a T-shirt," said deputy Peggy Faulkner. "They love the classes. There are kids who don't come to school any other day but DARE day."

Bill Alden, deputy director of DARE America, said "for a lot of these kids that's one of the few things they've achieved . . . it means a lot to them."

The request for approval to spend the money was a routine item on the commission's agenda Wednesday. The sheriff's office wants to use $12,561 donated by the R. Harold Burton Foundation and the Honorary Colonel's to buy 3,300 T-shirts for the DARE program. The cost per T-shirt is $3.64.

Even though the money came from private donations, the commission must grant approval as to how it is spent.

The county offers the DARE program, a 17-week course, at 32 schools in the unincorporated area. Four officers rotate among the schools, teaching fifth-grade students about the perils of drug use and gang involvement.

Students are required to finish a DARE workbook and write an essay as part of the course. Faulkner said officers teach the classes but also spend time interacting with all the students at the school.

"The T-shirts are a symbol that these kids have graduated from the program," said Sgt. Ken Moeller, DARE coordinator. "We don't just hand these T-shirts out to anybody. To get a T-shirt, they have to earn it."

Ironically, Callaghan attended a DARE reunion a month ago and was given a DARE T-shirt that she wore at the event.

Callaghan said she is not opposed to the prevention program, but just wants proof that buying T-shirts is the best way to spend the money. "If they're going to be spending that money, it should go through an objective evaluation," she said.

Richard Burton says the R. Harold Burton Foundation chose the DARE program because they feel very strongly about prevention.

"It's very important to try and do something to prevent crime," Burton said. "The DARE program looks to us to be the very best (program), from what we've seen. You can't quantify what (DARE) does. While I can't prove the DARE program does what it tries to do, it is our feeling as a foundation that it's the best program available right now."

"It's a mistake not to try to do something (while children are young)," he said. "I think the DARE T-shirts are an important part of what they're trying to do."

So do others who've been involved in DARE.

"To me, it is a good outward sign of success and following through to not be on drugs," said Richard Highland, Redwood Elementary principal. Highland is the former principal of Baccus Elementary, which uses the DARE program.

"The value of those T-shirts with the kids is intuitive," said Sgt. Jim Potter. "You don't have to be a rocket scientist to understand that."

Burton said the donation is a grant that specifies how the money must be spent. If the money is not used as detailed in the grant proposal, which included buying T-shirts, the funds must be returned to the foundation.

"There is no discretion," Burton said.

Those involved with the DARE program worry that trouble with the commission will translate into no more donations.

The deputies say older students who've graduated from the program still wear their DARE T-shirts.

"If we don't start when they're this old we're not going to get them," Faulkner said. "Let's worry about something that's actually important."

Ironically, Callaghan's comments came just before she participated in a press conference to release the findings of survey that show more young people are using marijuana.