By Niki Cervantes
May 16, 2017 -- An anti-drug group affiliated with the Church of Scientology has been dropped by Santa Monica High School, although it remains on the school district's list of recommended sources for help in dealing with substance abuse.
The Foundation for a Drug-Free World was the source for two recent assemblies at Samohi for ninth and tenth grade students, two months after the death of a 15-year-old classmate who fell or jumped from a third-floor balcony after experimenting with LSD ("Santa Monica Mourns Death of Third Samohi Student in Six Months," March 22, 2017).
A third session, hosted May 9 by the Samohi PTSA, drew about 200 parents, the district said.
Complaints from some of them prompted the school to drop Drug-Free World from the series of its anti-drug presentations, said Gail Pinsker, a spokesperson for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD).
A district statement said Samohi principal Antonio Shelton had “vetted” Drug-Free World and “felt that it would be excellent for our students.”
“The presentations and materials do not have any reference or mention of Scientology, or else we would not be using this organization,” the statement said.
“School districts and public and private schools and universities throughout the country have used this organization for this purpose with success,” officials said.
In its numerous online, video and other free materials, Drug-Free World -- with headquarters in Los Angeles -- defines itself as the largest non-governmental anti-drug education and prevention operation “on the earth.”
But a quick look online points to the Church of Scientology’s involvement with Drug-Free World.
In its “Scientology in Society” section online, Scientology discusses the foundation extensively.
The “Drug-Free World information and prevention campaign features thirteen Truth About Drugs booklets--one for each of the most co abused substances,” the section says. “Campaign materials also include an Educator’s Kit to provide teachers, law enforcement and community groups effective tools to help young people make the right decision.
“Incisive public service announcements and documentary videos complement The Truth About Drugs series--ninety minutes on every drug of choice from those who have been there."
"To date, more than 700 million have heard or seen The Truth About Drugs message and wherever campaign materials have saturated populations, usage rates have dramatically dropped,” the website says.
On Monday, a statement from Scientology said the church is "saddened to hear that religious discrimination would stand in the way of saving young lives."
"The Church is a proud sponsor of the Drug-Free World education program which has helped millions of young people to learn the truth about drugs and how to live a drug-free life," the statement said.
"One would think that the tragic death of a student from LSD would be enough to set aside bigotry when there is evidence-based information that is invaluable, free of charge and provided out of good will and open hearts."
"The mother volunteering to assist Santa Monica High School with this program gave of her time freely out of her own compassion to help other parents keep their kids safe and living clean, productive lives."
Samohi, along with the community in general, has been coping with a string of unexpected student deaths.
In March, Andre Zuczek, a ninth grader at the high school, died after a three-story fall from a balcony.
Tied to an experiment using LSD, Zuczek's death occurred as students, parents, schools officials and others were coping with the deaths of two other students.
Vanai Jelks, also a 15-year-old student at Santa Monica High School, died in October and Kelly Cano, 18 and a Samohi senior, in February. The deaths were unrelated, but the causes remain unknown ("Santa Monica High School Student Dies of Unknown Illness Not Related to Recent Virus Outbreak," February 13, 2017).
A recent Santa Monica High School student -- Juan Castillo -- had also died in February after being shot in the head ("Police Investigate Shooting Death of Santa Monica Teenager," February 27, 2017).
Zuczek's mother issued a statement shortly after her son's death asking parents and children to talk about the incident as a way to stop others from drug use. The district urged extra caution and said anti-drug efforts would be expanded.
Drug-Free World, though, has caused parental consternation elsewhere.
Parents from New York City public schools were reportedly upset in January of 2015 to learn the foundation was delivering its program free to elementary, middle school and high school students. Some parents have said they were unaware of the program's link to Scientology.
The Church of Scientology started Drug-Free World in October 2006, about a year after then-State School Superintendent Jack O'Connell urged all California schools to stop using Scientology's former anti-drug program Narconon, according to SF Gate, an online site that covers San Francisco.
His recommendation followed a state evaluation that found the program offered "inaccurate and unscientific information.”
SMMUSD said Monday the last anti-drug assemblies for Samohi students will be handled with “alternative programming” from the Samohi Wellness Collaborative, which includes the City of Santa Monica, police and the nonprofit CLARE Foundation, a Santa Monica provider of rehab-related services, district officials said.
The slide presentation given to parents on May 9 can be found at http://www.samohi.smmusd.org/pdf/DrugAlcoholAwarenessandEducation.pdf.
It includes Drug-Free World as a source for more information.