Coachella Valley -- State education officials are investigating the drug-prevention program Narconon, which is closely linked to the Church of Scientology and has made at least one fund-raising stop in the Coachella Valley.
California Superintendent of Public Schools Jack O'Connell has ordered a probe to determine whether Narconon's drug-prevention program may also be a vehicle to promote the teachings and philosophy of the late L. Ron Hubbard, author and founder of the Church of Scientology.
The probe also aims to find out whether anti-drug presentations at some 350 schools across the state are scientifically sound or have questionable content.
"Right now we're in the probing phase," said Tina Woo Jung, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Education, said in a telephone interview on Tuesday.
"We're going to talk to them (Narconon International) and just look over what they're teaching to see if it aligns (with state standards)," Jung said.
At issue are Narconon's "Truth About Drugs" hour-long classroom presentations. O'Connell's office is following up on recent complaints and questions that have surfaced in school districts alleging that some of Narconon's medical theories are based on "pseudoscience" and students have been subtly introduced to the church's concepts.
Narconon's program, which is provided to schools nationwide for free, teaches that drugs accumulate in body fat and can cause drug cravings and flashbacks for years; that saunas can sweat drugs out of the body; and that colored ooze is released when drugs leave the body. All drugs are referred to as "poisons."
Narconon officials have defended the program's medical claims. They acknowledge Scientologists support the program and that Narconon administrators and lecturers are Scientologists. But they insist the program is legally and financially separate from the Church of Scientology.
In a recent press release distributed this month, Narconon International said its drug-prevention network spans 120 organizations in 39 countries. Over the past year, Narconon's drug prevention staff has reached more than 400,000 students in 36 countries with in-school presentations on the physical and personal consequences of drug abuse, Narconon officials said. Clark Carr, president of Narconon International, held a news conference in downtown Palm Springs in 1999 to announce the organization's effort to raise $50 million for "Truth About Drugs," the drug-education program for schools.
Several Coachella Valley residents were then named to coordinate fund-raising efforts. Non-profit Narconon International is based in Hollywood and operates the Web site www.narconon.org.
O'Connell's office said there was no way to know how many schools in California have welcomed Narconon presenters.
Educators in the valley's three public school districts said they haven't taken up Narconon on its free drug-education offer.
"We have not used these people at all," said David Gibbons, facilitator of Coachella Valley Unified's Student Assistance Program.
"The only time I've heard of this organization is through the Betty Ford Clinic or something like that," Gibbons said. The other two districts don't recall using Narconon.
The debate about Narconon's tactics began recently after officials in the San Francisco Unified School District raised questions about the scientific basis for presentations made in more than a dozen schools in the district.
The San Francisco Chronicle published articles in early June that detailed links between Narconon's instruction and the Church of Scientology's religious teachings.
Since then, Los Angeles Unified School District officials have issued a warning to the district's schools not to use the program.
It's too early to tell what the state's investigation may show, but O'Connell said findings could lead to an order barring Narconon from providing instruction in all state schools.