State to evaluate Narconon
State schools chief Jack O’Connell has asked a research group known for its rigorous reviews of health curriculum to spend three months evaluating the Narconon anti-drug program, whose classroom instruction has been linked to the Church of Scientology.
At a press conference today in East Los Angeles, O’Connell will announce that the California Healthy Kids Resource Center, a public agency in Hayward, will look at what Narconon is teaching thousands of students in its hourlong presentations at dozens of schools each year.
“The review will be limited to looking at the curriculum and training materials for their accuracy, medical research and authenticity,” O’Connell said Thursday. “The resource center will do a very thorough evaluation from five qualified reviewers, including a physician, education professionals and drug and alcohol prevention coordinators.”
The findings of the center will carry no force of law, but unless the reviewers endorse Narconon, O’Connell said, he will issue a strongly worded admonition to districts against using the program.
O’Connell said his call for a review resulted from recent articles in The Chronicle that raised questions about the science being taught by Narconon. The articles also found parallels between Narconon’s instruction and language and concepts embraced by the Church of Scientology.
O’Connell said the curriculum review would not go into the church-state issue.
Narconon officials acknowledge that they, their employees and donors tend to be Scientologists and that Narconon’s curriculum was conceived by L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the Church of Scientology.
But they are adamant that the Narconon program is nonsectarian and say that the program provides an important public service to schoolchildren.
“We welcome the opportunity to provide the California Department of Education with first-hand information about our drug education program, its science-based curriculum and our results over the last 30 years,” said Narconon’s president, Clark Carr. “With teen alcohol and drug use continuing at epidemic levels, giving the truth about drugs to our children is essential. It is both the California Department of Education’s and Narconon’s responsibility to ensure that youth learn enough to live drug-free lives.”
Narconon’s classroom presentations include ideas about drug addiction that medical experts interviewed by The Chronicle said had no basis in fact. The ideas include: that drugs accumulate indefinitely in body fat, where they cause drug cravings and flashbacks for years; that the mind is made up of “mental image pictures” that get “scrambled” by the drugs in fat; that the vitamin niacin pulls drugs from fat, and saunas sweat them from the body.
Carr and Narconon’s medical staff — including Drs. David Root of Sacramento and G. Megan Shields of Los Angeles — say the claims are well- grounded in science.
The Narconon program has not been reviewed under the federal government’s rigorous guidelines and is therefore not eligible for public drug-prevention money, state officials said.
Both the San Francisco and Los Angeles school districts are conducting their own reviews of Narconon. Administrators in some of the 38 school districts where Narconon has made presentations in recent years said they were unaware that the Narconon program was being presented in their schools because Narconon speakers approach individual teachers. At least three of those districts — Paramount Unified in Los Angeles County, and Irvine Unified and Santa Ana Unified in Orange County — plan to bar Narconon from their schools in the future.
The California Healthy Kids Resource Center, which will conduct the state’s review, is funded by the state Department of Education and the Department of Health Services. The Resource Center typically evaluates hundreds of full-scale health curricula each year, but it selects only about 25 percent to make available to teachers at public and private schools across California, said its executive director, Deborah Woods.
Woods said the center does not generally evaluate hourlong presentations, which Narconon’s is, “because the quality depends on the presenter, and it’s difficult to get (the reviewers) to the site. Typically, drug-abuse prevention in schools is more than a one-shot deal — it’s a set of planned sequential learning activities.”
However, Woods said, if the evaluators like what they see in Narconon, the program could be acquired by the library and made available to teachers throughout the state.
“This is special review, a little different from our normal review process because we’ve been asked to do it by the state Department of Education, ” Woods said. Typically, her office will hear about a curriculum through scholarly journals or professional conferences, she said.
Until about 1996, the Resource Center was mainly a clearinghouse of health information for educators, with about 4,000 titles available for borrowing or purchase. Since then, Woods said, the center has changed its orientation and reduced its titles to about 1,000 top-quality, research-based materials.
The California Healthy Kids Resource Center, located in the Alameda County Office of Education, can be reached at www.californiahealthykids.org.