A proposed taxpayer-funded pilot school linked to an arm of the controversial Church of Scientology has scored a $20,000 grant from a blue-chip Hub charitable foundation, the Herald has learned.
The Boston Foundation recently awarded the planning grant to the proposed "Cornerstone for Success Academy," a high school for at-risk students that would base its curriculum on a model created by Applied Scholastics International - the educational arm of the Church of Scientology.
The celebrity-backed religious organization is often criticized as a destructive, mind-controlling cult, and critics have blasted the educational curriculum as a back-door avenue to recruitment.
The Applied Scholastics Web site includes several testimonials from celebrity Scientologists, including actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta.
Still, Applied Scholastics spokeswoman Keri Lee said, "Our organization is a secular organization. It's not religious." In a statement, she added, "There is no religious mission nor religious material in our programs."
Officials from Boston's Church of Scientology did not return calls.
Documents pitching the proposal provided to the School Department by the Boston Foundation include a report about a Louisiana school that states Applied Scholastics is a creation of Scientology leader L. Ron Hubbard.
But Boston Foundation spokesman David Trueblood said the charity was unaware of the proposed school's connection to the controversial religious sect.
"We give these planning grants to start the conversation," Trueblood said. "Our interest here as a foundation is to get as many educators and as many schools as possible talking about pilot schools. We are unabashedly pro-pilot schools. We know many are funded and few become pilot schools."
The proposed school is the brainchild of a group of city teachers, including many from Jeremiah Burke High School and Boston Latin. A bid by the same group to create a charter school was rejected by the state in 2000.
The group has no official headquarters, and individual members could not be reached last night.
The grant can be used as seed money to pay for members' travel, training, a Web site and other expenses related to making the school a reality. Pilot schools are funded through the city's school budget and require approval from the school superintendent and the Boston Teachers Union.
"The Boston Foundation obviously didn't pay careful attention to who they gave the planning grants to," said teachers union president Richard Stutman. "We respect the church of a Scientology as a church, but public dollars ought not to be spent on activities that borrow from church teachings and philosophy. There has to be a separation of church and state."
Stutman called the grant a "waste," predicting it would be overwhelmingly defeated by the union. School department spokesman Jonathan Palumbo said Superintendent Carol Johnson hadn't yet seen the group's application but would consider the Scientology ties in a review.
A school that uses Applied Scholastic's curriculum is already operating in Milton. Delphi Academy was criticized a decade ago for interjecting Scientology into the classroom, a claim rejected by administrators.
But noted cult expert Steve Hassan said he considers Scientology to be a "destructive cult."
"It is not an organization that promotes critical thinking and freedom of mind," Hassan said.