L.A. district warns
against the use of presentations by a group linked to the Church of
Scientology. The state plans an investigation.
By Duke Helfand and Cara Mia DiMassa
Times Staff Writers
June 24, 2004
Los Angeles school officials are
warning campuses not to use a drug prevention program linked to the
Church of Scientology while California's schools chief has ordered an
investigation to determine whether the anti-drug presentations are
scientifically sound and free from the religion's influence.
The target of the district and state actions is Narconon, a drug
prevention and rehabilitation program that bases its ideas partly on
the research and controversial teachings of Scientology founder L. Ron
Narconon has conducted educational assemblies and
classes, usually one session of about an hour each, in some schools in
Los Angeles, San Francisco and other cities.
In the "Truth About
Drugs" lectures, Narconon "presenters" tell students about the negative
mental, emotional and physical effects of drugs (including theories on
how they are stored and metabolized in body tissue and how drugs
deplete vitamins and nutrients).
In a memo sent to schools last
week, Los Angeles Unified School District Assistant Supt. Maria Reza
said the Narconon presentations are "not based on science" and warned
schools to use only drug prevention materials that are "research
validated" and approved by the district.
L.A. Unified's chief
operating officer, Tim Buresh, said in an interview Wednesday that the
district would conduct a review of the program and decide soon whether
to issue a more forceful statement against Narconon. "If we become
aware of a program that has questionable content, we will advise people
against that," Buresh said.
Narconon leaders said they offered
the program free. Buresh said the district would look at whether any
school funds had been spent on the lectures or related materials.
District officials said the lectures had been given at about 15 Los
Angeles district schools, but they were uncertain which ones.
Similarly, state Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell said his
office had no way to know how many California schools played host to
Narconon because individual teachers may have invited speakers without
formal approval or records. Narconon leaders said presentations had
been given at more than 350 California schools since 2000.
O'Connell expressed concern about the lectures after learning about
Narconon's activities in some schools from a series of articles earlier
this month in the San Francisco Chronicle. He asked his staff to
evaluate the program, a probe that is expected to take several months.
"We want information disseminated in our schools to be factual, accurate
and helpful," O'Connell said Wednesday. "We certainly don't want
untested and unscientific theories presented as truthful."
Carr, president of Hollywood-based Narconon International, said the
that school presentations were based on sound principles and that the
program had no motive beyond wanting to keep youngsters off of drugs.
He insisted the classes did not include any proselytizing for
"If people had never heard of Mr. Hubbard, the
lectures would still stand up, because they are based on real science,"
Carr said. "We don't use scare tactics. We come in with the straight
facts. We're helping kids get off drugs. We've been doing it for a long
time. We're going to continue doing it."
Carr said the
organization approaches individual school health teachers or
principals, informs them of the program and asks if they are interested
in a presentation.
The Narconon program dates to the mid-1960s,
when an Arizona prison inmate used Hubbard's teachings to battle his
Inspired by Hubbard's belief that personal
abilities can help people overcome their problems, William Benitez
founded Narconon in 1966 and eventually helped spread the program with
others influenced by Hubbard. Hubbard died in 1986.
later built on Hubbard's research into drug withdrawal and
detoxification to establish rehabilitation procedures, including the
use of vitamins and mineral supplements to ease symptoms and intensive
sweating in saunas to reduce the residual effects of drug use,
according to a Narconon website and interviews. The site provides links
to several studies that the group says support Narconon's procedures.
Carr said that Narconon presenters deliver a narrow piece of the overall
approach in their school lectures, focusing on prevention and leaving
out information about rehabilitation techniques, such as sweating in
Narconon's educational programs are now one part of a
vast enterprise that includes drug rehabilitation and treatment centers
and a series of books and videos aimed at helping people live
The debate over Narconon began after officials in
the San Francisco Unified School District raised questions about the
program's scientific validity and its presentations at more than two
dozen schools there.
San Francisco officials sent Narconon
Drug Prevention and Education Inc., a Narconon affiliate, a letter in
February asking the Los Angeles-based group to clarify several aspects
of its classroom presentations, including a statement that "all drugs
are basically poisons."
In a written response, the group's
director, Tony Bylsma, insisted that the statement was accurate based
on "recognized and professional sources."
Narconon has surfaced
in other school districts, including Santa Ana, where the group
presented a lecture to a health class at Saddleback High School in 1996
and has not returned since, said district spokeswoman Lucy Arajuo-Cook.
Arajuo-Cook said district Supt. Al Mijares was concerned about the issue
when he learned about it Wednesday. She said the district would issue a
notice to ensure that "no one does anything on their own" and that the
group is not invited to any future classes.
Times staff writer Joel Rubin contributed to this report.