Santa Monica High School Cancels Scientology Anti-Drug Program After Uproar (Exclusive)

Santa Monica High School

Following parent outcry, the new school principal, who claims he vetted the church front group, intends to work with local law enforcement on substance abuse education.

Santa Monica High School has canceled a series of substance abuse prevention lectures after parents complained that a Scientology front group was responsible for them, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.

The Foundation for a Drug-Free World held three morning assemblies in recent weeks for ninth and tenth grade students following a troubling academic year marked by drug incidents, including the fatal March rooftop fall of a 15-year-old freshman high on LSD. Questions appear to have arisen after the organization, one of the religion’s social-betterment initiatives, held a workshop for 200 parents on May 9. Word soon circulated of the program's Scientology affiliation. After a number of families complained, the school agreed to discontinue the program.

Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District spokeswoman Gail Pinsker tells THR that the school’s principal, Dr. Antonio Shelton, “fully vetted this organization and felt that it would be excellent for our students,” adding that “the presentations and materials do not have any reference or mention of Scientology.”

Shelton was not made available to THR to answer questions. He joined the school last year. 

The Foundation makes no mention in its messaging of the Scientology connection, although a basic Internet search reveals the church affiliation, as well as a history of critical coverage of its attempts to spread its message at public institutions in places such as New York City. 

“This is a strategy they’ve been using for quite a while now,” says Tony Ortega, a noted critic of the church and author of The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology Tried to Destroy Paulette Cooper. “They love targeting schools and want to make this sound like it’s the D.A.R.E. [Drug Abuse Resistance Education] program, handing pamphlets out. Putting aside the church-and-state issue, you have to ask yourself, what is their real concern and their real purpose? This is an organization with some very odd ideas about pharmaceuticals, medicine and mental health.”

Another more well-known Scientology front organization, the drug abuse prevention program Narconon, was evaluated in a 2005 study prepared for the California Department of Education. (Narconon has promulgated its teachings in dozens of the state’s public schools.) It highlighted a number of concerns over inaccurate information in the organization’s presentations and supplementary resources, concluding that it “does not reflect accurate, widely accepted medical and scientific evidence.”

“This information is overgeneralized or exaggerated,” the study explained about Narconon. “Inaccurate and misleading drug-related information is problematic because it can confuse students and be perceived as designed to arouse fear. It may also lead students to discredit the schools’ drug prevention program and distrust educators.”

Pinsker explains that the school will now be “going in a different direction,” partnering with the local police department and hospital.

Santa Monica High, known as "Samohi" and situated blocks from the Pacific Ocean, has been a fount of Hollywood for generations, graduating everyone from Glenn Ford and Robert Wagner to Sean Penn and Robert Downey, Jr. Its most prominent recent alum, who made sport of the campus’s liberal bent while he was a student, is the young Trump senior advisor Stephen Miller.

The Church of Scientology responded to THR with the statement below. 

The Church of Scientology 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. 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. The Foundation for a Drug-Free World, www.drugfreeworld.org, provides free of charge, secular, educational materials on the danger of illicit drug use and its volunteers — Scientologists, Catholics, Christians, Jews, Muslims and individuals of other faiths or none at all — are heroes helping to make a better world. 

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