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
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 Hubbard.
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."
Clark 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 Scientology.
"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
Carr said the organization approaches individual school health teachers or
principals, informs them of the program and asks if they are interested in a
The Narconon program dates to the mid-1960s, when an Arizona prison inmate
used Hubbard's teachings to battle his heroin addiction.
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.
Narconon 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 saunas.
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 drug-free.
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.