L.A. schools look hard at Narconon

Scrutiny follows S.F., state review of anti-drug program

San Francisco Chronicle/June 23, 2004
By Nanette Asimov

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.

Narconon's influence

At least 34 San Francisco public schools have hosted Narconon since 2000. They are:

  • Burton High
  • Lincoln High
  • Davis Middle
  • James Denman Middle
  • Francisco Middle
  • Franklin Middle
  • Hoover Middle
  • Horace Mann Middle
  • Luther Burbank Middle
  • Presidio Middle
  • Visitacion Valley Middle
  • Buena Vista Elementary
  • Bryant Elementary
  • Clarendon Elementary
  • Cleveland Elementary
  • Commodore Sloat Elementary
  • Charles Drew Elementary
  • El Dorado Elementary
  • Leonard Flynn Elementary
  • Alice Fong Elementary
  • Francis Scott Key Elementary
  • Guadalupe Elementary
  • Junipero Serra Elementary
  • Monroe Elementary
  • George Moscone Elementary
  • New Traditions Elementary
  • George Peabody Elementary
  • Sanchez Elementary
  • Stevenson Elementary
  • Sunnyside Elementary
  • Sutro 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
  • ABC Unified
  • Baldwin Park Unified
  • Compton Unified
  • Duarte Unified
  • Inglewood Unified
  • Los Angeles Unified
  • Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified
  • Paramount Unified
  • Pomona Unified
  • Redondo Beach Unified
  • Santa Monica-Malibu Unified
  • South Pasadena Unified
  • Temple City Unified
  • Orange County
  • Irvine Unified
  • Santa Ana Unified
  • Riverside County
  • Lake Elsinore Unified
  • Riverside Unified
  • Temecula Valley Unified
  • San Diego County
  • Warner Unified

Source: Narconon Drug Prevention and Education and San Francisco Unified School District

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