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Anti-drug program rejected by schools

St. Petersburg Times, Florida
April 13, 1999

A school district committee says the program, based on teachings by Scientology's founder, is not in line with district and federal guidelines.

A Pinellas school district committee has refused to allow students to hear an anti-drug program based on the teachings of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.

The program is a product of Narconon International, a drug rehabilitation and education organization based in Los Angeles. Despite the reliance on Hubbard's principles, Narconon officials say it is a secular group that is separate from the Church of Scientology.

A Clearwater couple, Larry and Jessica Byrnes, mailed letters to several elementary schools in January and February, asking permission to speak to students, district officials said.

The Byrnes, who are Scientologists, moved to Clearwater in October from New Hampshire, where they said they made Narconon presentations to thousands of public and private school students during a five-year period. New Hampshire school officials could not be reached Monday.

Individual schools in Pinellas referred the couple to the district's Family Life Education Committee, which screens organizations seeking to deliver social messages to students.

The Church of Scientology has a large presence in downtown Clearwater, home of the church's worldwide spiritual headquarters.

In a church publication titled "What is Scientology?," Narconon International is described as a "social betterment organization . . . dedicated to restoring drug-free lives to drug-dependent people."

"Scientologists and the church support Narconon and its successful drug rehabilitation programs all over the world," said Michael Rinder, a top Scientology official.

But, Rinder said, "they are not church programs."

On March 10, the Byrnes and six teenagers delivered a 25-minute presentation based on the "tone scale," said Linda Smock, a district supervisor who facilitates the committee.

The tone scale is a set of 12 "emotions" that range from "apathy," at the bottom, to "enthusiasm" at the top, Smock said. In between are "grief," "covert hostility,", "conservatism" and "cheerful," among others.

The teens gave examples of each emotion, and the Byrnes asked committee members if they understood. Smock said it was unclear how the tone scale tied into an anti-drug message.

Byrnes, who runs a software company from his home, said "the whole message is to go up with life and down with drugs." The Byrnes' two children, he said, took part in the presentation.

The first time someone gets high on drugs, Byrnes explained, he might experience emotions at the top of the tone scale. But soon, drug use will leave him at the bottom of the scale, ultimately killing him.

Byrnes said that he became interested in visiting schools after hearing Pinellas County School Board chairman Lee Benjamin speak at a Kiwanis club meeting in St. Petersburg about fighting student drug use.

"He actually called for businesses and parents and individuals to help volunteer," Byrnes said.

"We said "Great! We've got this kids' program that was real successful in New Hampshire."

At the end of the teens' presentation to the committee in March, the teens thanked Hubbard for conceiving the principles on which Narconon is based. A committee member who is a guidance counselor at Perkins Elementary School asked the students if they could make the presentation without acknowledging Hubbard.

"They answered immediately "No,' that it was an integral part of the program," Smock said.

Smock, however, said that the committee did not reject the group because of its tie to Hubbard. Rather, they rejected it because the "tone scale" was not aligned with school district and federal guidelines governing drug education and was not suited for elementary students.

Byrnes had requested to speak at a School Board meeting today. But on Monday, he said he would not attend the meeting because of travel plans. He did not say whether he would approach the board again to ask them to overrule the committee.

"We're not interested in controversy. We're interested in helping kids lead drug-free lives," he said.