Scrutiny follows S.F., state review of anti-drug program
School district officials in Los Angeles have ordered a review of an anti-drug program whose teachings are linked with the Church of Scientology and are warning teachers that its instruction “is not based on science.”
Los Angeles is the second district in the state to scrutinize Narconon Drug Prevention and Education, which reaches thousands of students in at least 20 California districts and has provided lectures in schools across the country for two decades.
Earlier this month, San Francisco schools Superintendent Arlene Ackerman gave Narconon until this Thursday to revise its curriculum or be barred from the district after The Chronicle reported that religious concepts embraced by the Church of Scientology have found their way into its classroom lectures.
Also, state schools chief Jack O’Connell ordered the state Department of Education last week to investigate Narconon.
“We’ll review the program, and unless it supports things the school district believes in, we’ll drop it,” Tim Buresh, chief operating officer for the Los Angeles schools, said Tuesday.
He said the district endorses only programs that have shown they reduce drug use among students. Narconon has not been reviewed by independent scientists and so is not eligible to appear on the federal government’s lists of “effective,” “model” or “promising” programs.
“I suspect a few programs have slipped through the cracks” in Los Angeles schools, Buresh said.
Maria Reza, the district’s assistant superintendent of student health and human services, sent a memo to all Los Angeles schools saying, “The information that is delivered in (Narconon’s) presentations is not based on science, and there have been serious questions raised about the accuracy of this information.”
One-time lectures, which Narconon provides, “are not effective,” the memo says. Schools should use one of four other anti-drug programs instead, Reza said.
Narconon was created in 1966 by L. Ron Hubbard, who founded the Church of Scientology in the early 1950s. The church teaches that the mind is composed of three-dimensional “mental image pictures,” with sound and smell, that make up one’s experiences. But the pictures become “scrambled” and spiritual growth impeded when substances ranging from aspirin to street drugs to nuclear radiation accumulate in body fat, Scientologists believe.
Narconon also teaches that drugs accumulate in body fat — not for days or weeks, as addiction specialists say, but indefinitely — and that they “scramble pictures,” said Clark Carr, president of Narconon.
Like Scientology, Narconon teaches that sweating triggers flashbacks and drug cravings even years after drugs are taken and that a full program of saunas, high-dose niacin and exercise are needed to flush drugs from fat.
Saunas are inside many Scientology churches, where the sweat program is called Purification. There, and at Narconon’s drug treatment centers, participants are expected to drink vegetable oil to replace tainted fat believed to exit the body in varying colors.
Five doctors interviewed by The Chronicle said they knew of no evidence to support Narconon’s claims.
But Carr and other Narconon officials strongly defend the accuracy of the assertions. They are adamant that the program is legally separate from the Church of Scientology. And Carr said Narconon will be pleased to address all concerns.
“It is completely our policy to work in association with school boards, health authorities or anyone over drug education,” he said.
But David Tokovsky of the Los Angeles school board was skeptical.
“The district should use this crack in our curricular standards to do not only a cleansing of the Narconon program, but a cleansing of what the hell is going on in health classes that still leaves us with pregnant kids, drugs galore and obese children — no matter how much we preach about the hazards of each,” he said.
At least 34 San Francisco public schools have hosted Narconon since 2000. They are:
James Denman Middle
Horace Mann Middle
Luther Burbank Middle
Visitacion Valley Middle
Buena Vista Elementary
Commodore Sloat Elementary
Charles Drew Elementary
El Dorado Elementary
Leonard Flynn Elementary
Alice Fong Elementary
Francis Scott Key Elementary
Junipero Serra Elementary
George Moscone Elementary
New Traditions Elementary
George Peabody Elementary
John Swett Elementary
Treasure Island Elementary
Yick Wo Elementary
Besides San Francisco, at least 19 other California school districts in four counties host Narconon Drug Prevention and Education programs. Here are the districts:
Los Angeles County
Baldwin Park Unified
Los Angeles Unified
Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified
Redondo Beach Unified
Santa Monica-Malibu Unified
South Pasadena Unified
Temple City Unified
Santa Ana Unified
Lake Elsinore Unified
Temecula Valley Unified
San Diego County
Source: Narconon Drug Prevention and Education and San Francisco Unified School District