Anti-drug teachings tied to Scientology called inaccurate
An anti-drug program with ties to the Church of Scientology will be barred from San Francisco classrooms because of concerns about its scientific accuracy, city schools Superintendent Arlene Ackerman said Tuesday.
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“We are going to withhold the opportunity for Narconon to be in our schools,” Ackerman said as thousands of students prepared to go back to school on Monday.
However, she asked for an outside scientific appraisal of Narconon and said she could reverse her decision if that independent review gave the program a thumbs-up.
At least four other school districts, including Los Angeles Unified, already have expelled Narconon.
The anti-drug program has been active in at least 34 other California school districts, and state schools chief Jack O’Connell has ordered his own evaluation, due in October.
Ackerman said her concern was raised after The Chronicle revealed in June that Narconon’s classroom lectures reflected Scientology’s beliefs about drugs and anatomy — such as the idea that drug residues remain indefinitely in body fat and cause recurring flashbacks and drug cravings.
In addition to barring Narconon, Ackerman said San Francisco schools will implement a stricter policy forbidding outsiders from teaching children until their curriculum has been reviewed and approved.
Each year, dozens of groups lecture students, from Alcoholics Anonymous to Magicians With a Message.
“After investigating Narconon, I discovered that we don’t have a process for reviewing curriculum from outside vendors,” a dismayed Ackerman said. “We’ve put in place a review process (to) catch potential problems.”
Shortly after The Chronicle’s articles appeared, Ackerman gave Narconon an ultimatum: Revise the curriculum or leave.
Narconon officials met her June 24 deadline to submit revisions but have been adamant all along that the program’s science is sound. They also maintained that the school program is entirely secular, even though Narconon’s lecturers and administrators are members of the Church of Scientology.
Accuracy found wanting
Trish Bascom, the district’s health program director, said she recommended that Ackerman bar Narconon because some material “did not ring 100 percent accurate” even after the revisions. Steve Heilig, director of health and education for the San Francisco Medical Society, has been asked to evaluate the curriculum further.
“We will work with anyone who has the best interests of San Francisco students at heart,” said Clark Carr, president of Narconon International, which is based in Hollywood.
Narconon has provided free anti-drug lectures to San Francisco schools since 1991. Carr said it has reached 30,000 San Francisco students and 1.7 million children nationwide in the past decade.
The Chronicle found that Narconon introduced students to some beliefs and methods of Scientology without their knowledge.
The stories reported that Narconon’s instruction rests, in part, on church beliefs that drug residues remain indefinitely in body fat, causing people to experience repeated drug flashbacks and cravings. Some teachers also reported that Narconon taught their students that drug residues can be sweated out in saunas and that colored ooze is produced when drugs exit the body. Those teachings are not mentioned in the program’s official curriculum and are Scientology ideas.
Five addiction specialists told The Chronicle they knew of no medical evidence to support the idea that drugs stay in fat for more a few weeks or that drugs exit via sauna or produce a colored ooze.
Bascom declined to comment on Narconon’s curriculum revisions, saying only that she will notify schools this week that the program may not be used.
Drugs and fat cells
The revised curriculum no longer states that drugs in fat cells “can stay there for years” triggering cravings. The district had called that misleading. The curriculum now says that drugs “are stored in various tissues for varying lengths of time.”
Nevertheless, in a cover letter accompanying the new curriculum, Narconon’s director of program development, Sue Birkenshaw, repeated Narconon’s original stance that drugs remain in the body’s tissues indefinitely.
“Not all members of the professional community are yet aware of this fact, ” she wrote, citing an article in a medical handbook that she says supports the concept.
Also gone from the curriculum is Narconon’s claim that “alcohol is made of dead, rotted food,” which the district had also called misleading.
Some of the more obvious linguistic overlaps between Narconon and the Church of Scientology also are gone. The old curriculum directed the lecturer to have students perform a “communication drill” and a “word clear” and to explain their “reality” — all common Scientology terms.
Nor does the revised curriculum still direct the Narconon speaker to lead students in thanking L. Ron Hubbard, who founded the Church of Scientology in the early 1950s and co-founded Narconon in 1966 with William Benitez, an Arizona inmate and addict turned anti-drug crusader.