Riverfront Times ~ Applied Pressure: Should St. Louis County grant tax breaks to Scientology-linked tutoring programs?

December 7, 2005 under St. Louis Schools

By Kristen Hinman

Every year in St. Louis County, on the fourth Monday in August, more than one thousand properties are placed on the auction block. County revenue officials and eager bidders converge on council chambers to divvy up land on which owners have not paid property taxes for three years.

The tax-delinquent citizenry are warned in advance that their real estate will go to the highest bidder if they haven’t paid at least one year’s worth of back taxes. The deadline is auction day.

“We have a flurry of activity right before the tax sale: people coming in and paying the oldest year due, just to get their property out of the sale,” says Richard Robison, manager of revenue services.

One prominent plot that escaped auction this year was the $3.8 million, 55-acre Spanish Lake spread belonging to Applied Scholastics International, the Church of Scientology-associated nonprofit tutoring program that is trying to gain a foothold in St. Louis public schools.

Since purchasing the property in 2001 for $2.9 million, Applied Scholastics has paid just one year’s worth of property taxes. Now, the organization owes St. Louis County nearly $350,000 and has until next August to make good on at least some of that debt.

The organization has been fighting to obtain a tax break for more than a year, saying its educational mission led the federal government to grant it a charitable status back in 1972.

But the county’s not convinced. First, the St. Louis County Board of Equalization turned Applied Scholastics down, saying its tutoring programs operate like a business by charging fees for so-called moral-improvement classes. And now the county council sees no reason to overturn the board’s decision.

“Most of what we heard was about their programs in Belize and other countries. And that was really a concern of mine,” says St. Louis County Councilman Kurt Odenwald. “I want to know what they’re doing in the county. Are their teachers certified? Do people get degrees? Are county residents taking their classes?”

Applied Scholastics spokeswoman Mary Adams suggests that the latest scrutiny of her group amounts to a witch hunt.

“Somebody is trying to insinuate we’re something other than what we are,” Adams says. “The real question is why the county is trying to tax an organization recognized for 30 years as a charitable, educational and tax-exempt organization by the IRS.”

Counters Odenwald: “We really have to make sure we’re exempting for an educational purpose.”

Adds Rita Casey, supervisor of the Board of Equalization: “Otherwise, I could say I’m teaching kids in my basement and get an exemption.”

Odenwald asked Applied Scholastics in September to furnish the council with more detailed information about the organization’s effectiveness and its county-centered educational efforts.

“If we find out it really isn’t a school, and what’s being used is just for the internal religion [of Scientology], that would affect our underlying decision,” he says. Odenwald expects the council’s revenue committee to forward its recommendation to the full body for passage within the next few weeks.

Municipal land-use and tax lawyers say the conflict amounts to differing interpretations of a broad state law.

According to that statute, property-tax exemptions are reserved for parcels “actually and regularly used exclusively for religious worship, for schools and colleges, or for purposes purely charitable and not held for private or corporate profit.”

Between 250 and 300 charitable groups apply every year for exemptions, and only about half are granted, county officials say.

“If you’re the county, you don’t go: ‘Bang, that’s it, you’re 501(c)(3) and federally tax-exempt, so you can have the tax status locally, too’,” says Jerome Pratter, a St. Louis attorney who has fought the county over this issue before.

Case law has left the burden on anyone seeking tax breaks to prove that their organization provides direct benefits to society, Pratter adds.

“I wouldn’t bet a dollar on either side in this case,” he concludes. “But so far everybody is doing what they’re supposed to, which is dig for the facts. And my guess is the loser will end up in court, because there’s a substantial amount of money involved.”

It would not be the first time a Scientology-associated group and St. Louis County have sparred in the halls of justice.

In 2003 the Church of Scientology, which has local headquarters in University City, filed a lawsuit against the Board of Equalization for declaring the church taxable. That case is still pending.

A 1977 Missouri Supreme Court ruling denying the Church any property-tax exemptions was the basis for the board’s and council’s actions, Councilman Odenwald says. The high court held that Scientologists were not religious because they didn’t worship the Supreme Being. But Odenwald recognizes that other states, such as Florida, have in recent years cut the Church a tax break. “Might the court apply a different standard today? It might.”

The county, meanwhile, has shown little inclination to aggressively pursue the back taxes owed by Applied Scholastics.

“We’ll send out a delinquent notice just before the tax sale,” explains Nancy Key, coordinator for the county’s collector of revenue. “But we’re not like a collection agency that keeps calling and calling.”

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Riverfront Times ~ L Is for L. Ron

October 26, 2005 under Applied Scholastics, St. Louis Schools

By Kristen Hinman

In July 2003, a nonprofit called Applied Scholastics International opened a spanking-new headquarters on 55 acres in Spanish Lake. Among those who attended the festivities were U.S. Congressman William “Lacy” Clay and actors Tom Cruise and Anne Archer. Newspapers from coast to coast published stories heralding the group’s move from LA to the great Midwest.

After the initial fanfare, Applied Scholastics quietly went about its business: pitching tutoring services to local groups with after-school programs and looking to ally with prominent urban-education researchers, Washington University’s Garrett Duncan among them.

Fast-forward two years to the fall of 2005. Applied Scholastics makes headlines once again, but this time the occasion is no celebration: Two local school districts, St. Louis and Hazelwood, say the group isn’t welcome in their classrooms.

As reported in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis Public Schools superintendent Creg Williams last month told area principals to quit sending teachers to professional-development workshops at Applied Scholastics. And in early October, Hazelwood School District superintendent Chris Wright penned a letter to the nonprofit’s CEO, Bennetta Slaughter, admonishing the organization to stop claiming a “partnership” with Hazelwood.

What’s so repugnant about Applied Scholastics?

“We know that some of their learning strategies are specifically referred to in the Scientology doctrine,” Wright sums up.

This is by no means the first time Scientologists have been accused of attempting to infiltrate public-school classrooms. In 1997 officials in California fended off a bid to allow Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s teaching materials into classrooms. Just last week came reports that a school district in San Antonio, Texas, was under fire for purchasing textbooks written by Hubbard.

The fuss isn’t so much a church-state issue as it is skepticism regarding Scientology itself. Followers of Hubbard, a science-fiction writer who founded the church in 1954, see themselves as immortal spirits hindered by numerous mental blocks, or “engrams.” “Clearing” the blocks can lead to spiritual awakening and a happy life, free of addiction. Scientologists eschew psychiatry and traditional counseling in favor of “auditing” sessions in which one church member questions another about painful memories and helps to “clear” him.

Despite the limelight afforded by adherents like Cruise, John Travolta and Kirstie Alley, some have called Scientology a cult. In a 1984 opinion, a judge in Los Angeles wrote that “[Scientology] is nothing in reality but a vast enterprise to extract the maximum amount of money from its adepts by pseudo-scientific theories.” More recently television viewers saw an emotional Cruise decry psychiatry on the Today show and tell Larry King that Hubbard’s study methods cured his dyslexia.

Enter Applied Scholastics, which uses texts authored by Hubbard. Though the books don’t overtly make the link between the writer and the religion, St. Louis Board of Education member Bill Purdy points out that titles like Learning How to Learn and How to Use a Dictionary prominently feature Hubbard’s name on their covers. And each contains a directory of Scientology churches in the U.S. Walk into one of the churches, and a congregant will tell you the books are used in classes there. “Clearly the books are based on L. Ron Hubbard’s belief system,” says Purdy.

Applied Scholastics’ methodology (which Hubbard calls “Study Technology”) holds that students have trouble in school because they never learn how to learn. Hubbard’s books identify three main barriers: “lack of mass” (a paucity of visual aids and diagrams); “skipped gradient” (failing to allow students to master simple steps in a complex lesson); and the “misunderstood word” (a weak vocabulary).

Chris Wright says Applied Scholastics personnel “aggressively” began trying to partner with her district almost as soon as the group took up residence in Spanish Lake. “They wanted to provide us with materials and training for our teachers,” says the Hazelwood superintendent. “They wanted to come into our schools and do tutoring, a number of activities.”

In response, Wright asked her staff to look into the program. She says they searched in vain for independent academic research that supports the method. Instead they found critics like David Touretzky, a computer-science professor at Carnegie Mellon University who operates a Web site called www.studytech.org.

“Applied Scholastics is Scientology. They’re no different,” asserts Touretzky, who has spent a decade probing Scientology and Applied Scholastics and posting his findings on studytech.org along with links to pertinent news stories. He says “learning how to learn” and overcoming the three barriers to learning comprise fundamental Scientology principles.

“Applied Scholastics teaches you nine different methods of ‘word clearing,’ or looking up words in dictionaries, for example. These same methods are laid out in Scientology scripture,” Touretzky points out.

Applied Scholastics spokeswoman Mary Adams dismisses Touretzky as “a little bit loony” and notes that his personal page on Carnegie Mellon’s Web site contains instructions for homemade bombs. (The site is filled with information concerning First Amendment issues, another of Touretzky’s passions.) “L. Ron Hubbard developed the educational materials and gifted them to Applied Scholastics in 1972. They have nothing whatsoever to do with religion,” Adams says. “He happens to be the founder of the Church of Scientology.”

“That’s exactly where the danger is,” counters Judith Cochran, an education professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and director of the E. Desmond Lee Regional Institute of Tutorial Education. “How does a guy that starts a religion know what’s needed academically?”

Adds Cochran’s UMSL colleague Kathleen Sullivan Brown: “I am aware of research on effective strategies for learning, and this is not one of them.”

Adams blames Purdy and public-schools gadfly Peter Downs for thrusting her organization under the media’s microscope. Last month, after some St. Louis teachers complained to local union officials about being sent to workshops at Applied Scholastics, Purdy and Downs toured the facility, after which the latter wrote a story that was published in the St. Louis Argus.

In his article, Downs reported that Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education had recently approved Applied Scholastics as a Supplemental Educational Service. This cleared the way for the group to tutor low-income children in underperforming schools statewide, as mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind law. The service is funded with federal money.

“The whole point of this tutoring is to get kids back on grade level,” Downs argues. “But there’s nothing in the Applied Scholastics curriculum designed to do that. It teaches kids what L. Ron Hubbard has to say about the barriers to learning and tells them to go back on their own and pick up what they missed. I think that’s a crock.”

Responds Adams: “The gentleman has an agenda, and he’s using our big name to forward it.”

In his Argus article, Downs wrote that Applied Scholastics was “gearing up for a partnership with Hazelwood Public Schools….”

That was news to Chris Wright, who fired off a letter to the nonprofit noting that the school district “has on many occasions declined offers from your organization” and demanding that the group “refrain from any future reference to a ‘partnership’ with Hazelwood School District.”

Downs, who publishes an e-mail newsletter called “St. Louis Schools Watch” and is a regular contributor to the Argus, wrote a follow-up article about Wright’s letter, slated for publication October 13.

At the last minute, Argus publisher Eddie Hasan pulled the story and replaced it with a press release supplied by Applied Scholastics.

“I might have given them free marketing,” Hasan concedes. “But I’m never one to sit on the sidelines and watch people attack somebody based on their religion.” The decision was partly personal, he says, stemming from the “mocking” he suffered 30 years ago when he converted to Islam. Hasan had another beef with Downs’ story. “You read Peter’s articles, and they make it seem like Scientology is the big bad wolf,” says the publisher. “If it is, well, why? I want some facts on the Applied Scholastics program, and is it effective?”

Downs published his story in his newsletter with an “editor’s note” rebuking Hasan.

UMSL’s Judith Cochran reviewed the Supplemental Educational Service application Applied Scholastics submitted to the state of Missouri. “It’s entirely misleading,” Cochran says of the document, noting that the program applied under the name “Spanish Lake Academy Tutoring Center/Applied Scholastics.” Cochran says the application fails to include sources for the data it presents as evidence of the program’s effectiveness. “I can’t tell where any of their tests were administered, how long the children were tutored or who did the testing. They’ve got to document that,” she says.

Missouri only requires that tutoring programs describe their “research and effectiveness”; the state does not stipulate that independent observers must weigh in on a program’s efficacy — a step Cochran says is essential.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education stands by its decision. Dee Beck, the department’s coordinator of federal programs, says the agency did not review Applied Scholastics’ texts before approving the application but has “asked for a set of materials from this particular provider so we can see for ourselves that they are not putting forth any ideology.”

According to www.tutorsforkids.org, a Web site funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Arizona and Missouri are the only states that have approved Applied Scholastics to date. Adams says her organization has applications pending in other states.

Meanwhile, Washington University education professor Garrett Duncan says he plans to continue ignoring Applied Scholastics’ overtures. Says Duncan: “Their literature is rather dogmatic, and their pursuit of me over the last year has shown that same type of zeal. I just don’t feel right about calling them back.”

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Saint Louis Post Dispatch ~ Hazelwood schools reject firm with ties to Scientology founder

October 18, 2005 under Applied Scholastics, St. Louis Schools

by Carolyn Bower

The Hazelwood School District has rebuffed a private tutoring provider with ties to the founder of Scientology, but parents will have the final say in whether they use the company.

The tutoring company, Applied Scholastics International, has made numerous overtures to the school district, Hazelwood superintendent Chris Wright said.

“We are not interested in your services, not willing to participate in your training programs, do not want your materials, and will not enter into any association with Applied Scholastics,” Wright wrote earlier this month. Her comments were in a letter to Bennetta Slaughter, chief executive officer of Applied Scholastics.

Applied Scholastics is one of 68 tutors on a state list of approved supplemental educational service providers in Missouri. Mary Adams, senior vice president for external affairs for Applied Scholastics, said the company was not faith-based but was based on methods developed by the late L. Ron Hubbard, the developer of the religious philosophy of Scientology.

Under the federal No Child Left Behind Law, any high-poverty school that fails to meet standards three years in a row must offer free tutoring. More than 100 schools have been on Missouri’s list of those needing improvement, but not all of those have to offer tutoring.

Most of the approved tutoring providers are private companies. Nationwide, hundreds of new businesses have jumped into the lucrative market of tutoring low-performing students. The influx has concerned some parents and teachers who worry about a lack of state and federal guidelines for evaluating the providers at a time when public schools face strict performance requirements.

Applied Scholastics opened in north St. Louis County in July 2003. On the Missouri education department Web site, Applied Scholastics goes by the name Spanish Lake Academy Tutoring Center/Applied Scholastics International and lists an intention to serve all schools in Missouri.

The Applied Scholastics center also offers teacher training. Two St. Louis public schools – Fanning and Long middle schools – sent teachers to the center this fall to learn about teaching. Some teachers and parents raised concerns about that with union Local 420, said Byron Clemens, the union’s first vice president.

St. Louis Superintendent Creg Williams later said the district would not use the center for training. No one from the St. Louis schools uses Applied Scholastics for tutoring, but parents have the option to choose anyone on the state’s list, said Johnny Little, a district spokesman.

Wright said Hazelwood offered its own tutors and did not use Applied Scholastics or any outside providers. Although many Hazelwood students have tutors for various reasons, only 11 of 334 eligible students get it under the supplemental provider program. Those 11 use district tutors.

Dee Beck, director of federal programs for Missouri’s education department, confirmed that picking a tutor is up to a parent, working with a district from the state list of approved providers.

In a letter sent Oct. 4 to Missouri’s education commissioner, D. Kent King, Wright said Applied Scholastics had “approached the district many, many times to try to get us to send teachers to their training, to get us to use their ‘instructional materials’ or to otherwise connect themselves to our children and families.

“We investigated them thoroughly at the time and found that they were closely connected to the Church of Scientology,” Wright wrote. “We made the decision that this connection was not in the interests of our children ….”

Wright asked that the state tighten its screening of tutoring companies. “I hope that you will evaluate those programs that have already been approved and establish some criteria for their approval,” she wrote.

Adams said she preferred not to comment on Wright’s letters, to avoid continuing what she considers “a miscommunication,” and would like to be neighborly to the Hazelwood district.

Beck said the state reviewed providers once a year, in spring. When a tutoring company applies to be on the list, three people look at the application. The application requires information about fees, when and where tutoring will take place and general qualifications of tutors. She said the state planned to revise applications to ask for more information. State officials also want to begin visiting tutoring sites.

“We are all learning how to do this better,” Beck said.

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The Saint Louis Argus – STLArgus Blog ~ Censorship at the Argus

October 14, 2005 under St. Louis Schools

Peter Downs, publisher of St. Louis Schools Watch and regular contributor to The St. Louis Argus, submitted an article to the Argus this week about controversy surrounding Applied Scholastics, a school vendor with ties to Scientology.

Downs writes in his latest SLS Watch email, “While at the printer, the publisher pulled the article and replaced it with a press release from Applied Scholastics. A senior vice president of Applied Scholastics, Mary Adams, invited the publisher, Eddie Hasan, to visit their headquarters with his daughter [State Rep. Yaphett El-Amin, who is running for state senate] to meet Isaac Hayes [who is also a Scientologist].”

It’s times like this that The Argus Blogger is glad that STLArgus.com is independent.

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Saint Louis Schools Watch ~ Union Leader Praises Williams

October 13, 2005 under Applied Scholastics, St. Louis Schools

by Peter Downs

A leader of the union representing teachers and other staff in the St. Louis Public Schools Tuesday evening thanked Superintendent Creg Williams for his actions in the Applied Scholastics controversy.

As previously reported in the Argus, two middle school principals in St. Louis Public Schools had sent their teachers to the Applied Scholastics campus in Spanish Lake to learn the teaching ideas of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the Church of Scientology.

Last month, after complaints from some of the teachers involved, Williams ordered a stop to those principal-mandated training visits.

Byron Clemons, the first vice president of the St. Louis Federation of Teachers and School-Related Personnel, said that the principals at Fanning and Long Middle Schools then launched a hunt to find out who had complained about Applied Scholastics. He said they interrogated teachers without a union representative present, and began to harass those they thought had complained to their union and to school board members.

Clemons said he and union president Mary Armstrong first found out about hunt during a visit to Applied Scholastics. The chief executive officer of the company, Bennetta Slaughter, mentioned they were trying to find out who complained about the company’s training, and displayed some emails about teacher interrogations.

Union leaders later met with Williams about the complaints of harassment and interrogation of teachers. Williams then told the principals to stop.

“Thank you for stopping the witch hunt,” Clemons said to Williams at the school board meeting Tuesday.

School board member Bill Purdy said he supported Williams’ action. “We have policies that prohibit retaliation against any employees who exercises their right to complain to their union,” he said.

Clemons also raised concern that Applied Scholastics could get money from the school district for “tutoring” students. Applied Scholastics is on a list of companies approved by the State to provide tutoring services under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The school board would vote later in the evening on a resolution approving the tutoring option for children in low performing schools.

Clemons urged the St. Louis school board to exclude Applied Scholastics from the tutoring program as, he said, Hazelwood was doing. Ken Brostron, the school district’s attorney, had advised the school board that federal law required that the district let parents choose a tutor from the entire list of companies approved by the State.

The school board approved the tutoring option, with Applied Scholastics included, by a vote of 5-1-1.

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Saint Louis Schools Watch ~ Hazelwood Public Schools Rejects Applied Scholastics

October 13, 2005 under Applied Scholastics, St. Louis Schools

[Editor's note: The following article was set to run in the St. Louis Argus on October 13, 2005. While at the printer, the publisher pulled the article and replaced it with a press release from Applied Scholastics. A senior vice president of Applied Scholastics, Mary Adams, invited the publisher, Eddie Hasan, to visit their headquarters with his daughter to meet Isaac Hayes.]

by Peter Downs

October 11, 2005 — Chris Wright, the superintendent of Hazelwood Public Schools, has written a sharply-worded letter to the chief executive office of Applied Scholastics rejecting her claim that the company is working with Hazelwood Public Schools to tutor students from low performing schools.

In the letter, dated October 4, 2005, Wright characterizes the claim by Bennetta Slaughter of Applied Scholastics as “patently false.”

Wright continued: “We have repeatedly indicated that we are not interested in your services, not willing to participate in your training programs, do not want your materials, and will not enter into any association with Applied Scholastics.”

Adding that Hazelwood Public Schools intends to provide any tutoring required by federal law itself, Wright concluded her letter to Slaughter stating: “We do not need or want an association with Applied Scholastics.”

In a separate letter to Kent King, commissioner of the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Wright explained her rejection of Applied Scholastics. She said that the company, which has its world headquarters in the Hazelwood school district, has approached the district many times during the last three years about working together. “We investigated them thoroughly . . . and found that they were closely connected to the Church of Scientology. We made the decision that this connection was not in the interests of our children and refused all efforts to “partner” with the District.”

Ellen Mahler-Forney, a spokesperson for the Church of Scientology in University City, said Wright’s attitude reflects a misunderstanding of the church. “We are a new religion,” she said, and “any new religion has a lot of misunderstanding to overcome.”

While taken aback by the tone of Wright’s letter, the officers of Applied Scholastics said it does not affect their plans to tutor students from Hazelwood Public Schools. “It is not [Wright's] decision,” said Mary Adams, senior vice president for external affairs at Applied Scholastics. “The senior vice president for external affairs at Applied Scholastics. “The choice is the parents. If they chose us to tutor their children, the school district has to pay for, because we are an approved provider in Missouri.”

Wright, however, is urging King to reevaluate the approval of Applied Scholastics. “As the Department reviews renewal applications from potential providers for Supplemental Education Services this year,” she wrote, “I hope that you will evaluate those programs which have already been approved and establish some criteria for their approval.”

Wright’s was not the only letter King received last week urging him to reevaluate Applied Scholastics. David Touretzky, research professor in the Computer Science Department at Carnegie Mellon University, also sent a letter detailing his claims that: “What Applied Scholastics calls secular “study technology” is actually covert instruction in the Scientology religion.”

Adams and other representatives of Applied Scholastics and its parent company, Association for Better Living and Education International, denied that Applied Scholastics covertly instructs students in the Scientology religion. They said the Church of Scientology does use “study technology,” but only as a way to help church members study their religious texts, not as part of the religion itself.

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Hazelwood (Missouri) School Superintendent Rejects Applied Scholastics

October 4, 2005 under Applied Scholastics, St. Louis Schools

Dr. Chris Wright, Superintendent of the Hazelwood School District in Missouri, was not pleased when Bennetta Slaughter (CEO of Applied Scholastics) falsely announced that her group would be partnering with the Hazelwood Public Schools to provide supplementary tutoring to Hazelwood Students. Dr. Wright’s letter to Slaughter says:

“We have repeatedly indicated that we are not interested in your services, not willing to participate in your training programs, do not want your materials, and will not enter into any association with Applied Scholastics.”

PDF of the letter to Bennetta Slaughter [see plain text version here]

Dr. Wright was also not happy with the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, which granted Applied Scholastics’ application for approved provider status without any meaningful review of the organization or its materials. Her letter to Commissioner Dr. Kent King warns that Applied Scholastics is trying to hide its Scientology connection, and suggests that the department should reexamine its approval.

PDF of the letter to Dr. Kent King [see plain text version here]

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St. Louis Post Dispatch ~ St. Louis schools end training at center with Scientology ties

September 22, 2005 under Applied Scholastics, St. Louis Schools

by Trisha Howard

St. Louis Public Schools will no longer participate in teacher training at a center affiliated with the Church of Scientology, the district’s superintendent said Wednesday.

The district’s teachers union had complained that several schools had sent teachers to training at the center in Spanish Lake, called Applied Scholastics International.

Superintendent Creg Williams said that he wasn’t familiar enough with the center’s program to judge its worth, but he didn’t want its training to distract from professional development that the district already provides its teachers.

“I want to make sure we’re focusing on the initiatives we already have in place, and that’s not one of our initiatives,” Williams said. “The district has had its hands in so many programs and activities. You can’t focus that way.”

Applied Scholastics International opened its teacher training center here in July 2003, relying on methods developed by the late L. Ron Hubbard, a science fiction writer and the founder of Scientology.

The principals of Fanning and Long middle schools sent some of their teachers to the center this fall to learn about teaching strategies, district officials said.

Some of those teachers took their concerns to the union, Local 420, which in turn raised the issue with the School Board. Byron Clemens, the union’s first vice president, said several teachers were uncomfortable attending workshops at the center.

An Applied Scholastics spokeswoman could not be reached Wednesday for comment The Scientology Web site describes Applied Scholastics as “a separate and autonomous charitable program that is independent of the churches of Scientology.”

School Board member Bill Purdy called for an investigation of the program last week, citing the union’s concerns. He also visited the center.

The center’s directors told Purdy that the training programs “were not connected to the Church of Scientology,” he said. “But all of the materials they sent home with me, on every cover, it says, ‘Based on the works of L. Ron Hubbard.’ It’s right on the cover. You draw your own conclusions.”

thoward@post-dispatch.com 314-340-8172

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Saint Louis Schools Watch ~ Scientology and the Schools

September 22, 2005 under Applied Scholastics, St. Louis Schools

September 22, 2005 — A controversy over sending St. Louis Public School teachers to a training program connected to the Church of Scientology underscores a major flaw in the federal No Child Left Behind Act: rigorous performance standards for public schools, but none for private companies that are supposed to repair the failures.

The controversy began to simmer before Labor Day when approximately two dozen teachers from Fanning and Long middle schools were sent for training to the Spanish Lake headquarters of Applied Scholastics International.

Some of the teachers complained to their union — the St. Louis Teachers and School-Related Personnel Union, American Federation of Teachers Local 420 — that the program is run by the Church of Scientology. Local 420 President Mary Armstrong and First Vice President Byron Clemons took the complaints about the workshops, Clemons called them “Church of Scientology workshops,” to school board member Bill Purdy. On September 13, Purdy asked Superintendent Creg Williams to look into the complaints and report back to the school board at its regular meeting on September 20.

In an interview with St. Louis Schools Watch, Applied Scholastics Chief Executive Officer Bennetta Slaughter denied that her organization has any connection to Scientology, a 35-year-old religion that holds that humans are made of clusters of extraterrestrial spirits called “thetans”, who were banished to Earth million years ago by an cruel galactic ruler named Xenu. Through an extensive series of costly “auditing” sessions by church “conductors,” individuals can supposedly “clear” the bad thetans away from the good thetans and achieve a higher level of understanding and a better life.

Slaughter said the confusion about Applied Scholastics comes from the fact that it is based on the educational writings and “study technology” of the man who founded Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard, but, she said, the church is not involved in any way. Applied Scholastics licenses the right to use Hubbard’s educational writings from his estate, she said, not from the church. She also that she has no connection with Scientology.

Hubbard is everywhere in evidence at Applied Scholastic. His picture adorns walls, every book carries his name, and the curriculum talks about how Hubbard discovered “the barriers to learning” and the actual psychological states students enter when they come up against one of those barriers.

The connections to Scientology are stronger than just a common reverence of Hubbard, however. The promotional material and testimonials for Applied Scholastics feature such well known Scientologists as Tom Cruise, Isaac Hayes, and John Travolta. The “What is Scientology” web site of the Church of Scientology discusses Applied Scholastics and Hubbard’s “study technology” under the heading “Scientology Helping Students to Study.”

The web site of the Church of Scientology International says that Scientologists have made “programmes using Mr. Hubbard’s educational discoveries . . . available to the public through Applied Scholastics International.” The web site devotes several pages to Applied Scholastics.

The church’s magazine, “Freedom,” has featured Bennetta Slaughter and Applied Scholastics, and the web version links to the Applied Scholastics web site.

On her own web page, Slaughter attributes her success to Scientology: “Through Scientology counseling and courses I was able to gradiently dissolve away all those things that were stopping me,” she wrote. Slaughter formerly headed a Scientology publishing company called AMC Publishing, first in Dallas, Texas and later in Clearwater, Florida. In the course of an investigation into the death of a woman named Lisa McPherson in December 1995, Slaughter testified that she had been a Scientologist for over 20 years. In November 1998, Florida charged the Church of Scientology with murdering McPherson by keeping her locked up in a room and denying her medical attention until she died of dehydration. The medical examiner reported that it appeared she had not had water for five days.

Slaughter’s lack of forthrightness about the Scientology connections to Applied Scholastics raises a red flag about the group’s “study technology.” As Clemons said, “if there is a wall, it is a very thin wall, so thin you can hear the Scientologists talking on the other side.”

A second red flag is the “study technology” itself.

Applied Scholastics claims to use only the “educational discoveries” of L. Ron Hubbard, who died in 1986, and no one else, because Hubbard discovered the barriers to learning and the ten rules for effective teaching.

According to Applied Scholastics, the first barrier to study is “lack of mass,” or “not having the real thing there that you are studying about.” Slaughter admitted that that is neither new nor profound, but said that what Hubbard did, “through hundreds of case studies,” was determine “the actual mental states and physical reactions” of students who bump up against this barrier. “They feel squashed, bent, sort of spinny, sort of lifeless, bored, or angry,” she said, reading from one of Applied Scholastics’ texts. “They can wind up with their stomach feeling funny, with headaches, feeling dizzy, and very often their eyes will hurt.”

The solution, according to Hubbard and Applied Scholastics, is to put the real thing that students are studying about right in front of them in the classroom. If teachers can’t do that — the Moon, for example, might not fit — “pictures help. Movies would help too.”

This stuff is so elementary, and so trite, that Applied Scholastic’s hype comes off as just plain silliness. Applied Scholastics teaches its methods with large comic books and cartoon posters mounted on the walls. The principals of Fanning and Long middle schools spent their professional development budgets on sending teachers to Applied Scholastics to study those comic books.

No Child Left Behind

Applied Scholastics is an approved provider in Missouri for supplemental education services under Title I of No Child Left Behind. That law requires that public schools that are labeled as “need improvement” have to set aside 20% of their Title I money for tutoring or transportation to tutoring from approved providers of supplemental education services.

Kaye Bartles, who is in charge of supplemental education services at Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), said Applied Scholastics is a new provider, “so we don’t know much about it.” She said organizations apply for approval by submitting an application, which gets read and graded by three people. There are no site visits to evaluate the organization, no review of the organization’s texts, because DESE does not have the staff to do those things.

Randy Rook, director of federal grant management at DESE, said that when President George W. Bush signed No Child Left Behind four years ago, “a lot of people saw this as a great way to get into real money.” Most of those people have dropped by the side, he said, but, he admitted, as of yet there has been no evaluation of those private tutoring programs. “There will be,” he added. He said he does not know anything about Applied Scholastics.

The third red flag to add to the dissembling and the trite programming at Applied Scholastics is the history of the Church of Scientology, which was involved in many frauds and scams.

Scientology

In May, 1991, Time magazine detailed a list of scams and financial frauds perpetrated by Scientology in an article that labeled Scientology “The Thriving Cult of Power and Greed.” The Church of Scientology sued Time for libel, and lost.

Scientology has roots back in the publication in 1950 of Hubbard’s book “Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health.” Hubbard claimed that unhappiness sprang from mental aberrations (or “engrams”) caused by early traumas, and that through “auditing” sessions with an “e-meter,” he could remove engrams, cure blindness, and improve a person’s intelligence and appearance.

Hubbard set up centers to sell his dianetics auditing services. In 1971, however, a federal court ruled that his claims that auditing had medical benefits were phony and his e-meter auditing could not be called scientific. Hubbard then declared that auditing was a religious rite, ordered Scientology officials to wear clerical garb, and began referring to payment for dianetics as “donations.”

The 1970s and ’80s marked the height of government investigations into Scientology. Eleven top Scientologists, including Hubbard’s wife, were sent to prison in the early 1980s for infiltrating, burglarizing and wiretapping more than 100 private and government agencies in attempts to block their investigations.

Hubbard himself went into hiding in 1981 as the IRS moved to indict him for tax fraud. He died, still in hiding, in 1986. Among the evidence against him were memos in which Hubbard urged his subordinates to: “Make money. Make more money. Make others produce so as to make money . . . However you get them in or why, just do it.”

Among scams identified by Time magazine were: Sterling Management Systems, formed in 1983, which mailed a free newsletter to more than 300,000 health-care professionals, mostly dentists, promising to increase their incomes dramatically, but which actually marketed Scientology auditing sessions.

HealthMed, a chain of clinics run by Scientologists, which promoted a grueling and excessive system of saunas, exercise and vitamins designed by Hubbard to purify the body. Experts denounced the regime as quackery and potentially harmful.

Narconon, a Scientology-run chain of 33 alcohol and drug rehabilitation centers based on Hubbard’s “purification” treatments.

A Florida rare coin dealership run by Scientologists, which was a front for money laundering.

And Applied Scholastics.

The church has claimed to have purged criminal elements from its organization in the mid 1980s. In 1993, during the administration of President Bill Clinton, the IRS recognized Scientology as a religion.

How did Applied Scholastics get into St. Louis Public Schools?

Slaughter credited Rev. Sammie Jones and school board member Ron Jackson with spreading positive words about her organization. Applied Scholastics trains tutors for a tutoring program at Jones’ church, and Slaughter has Jones’ photo on her office wall. She said Jones also has introduced the program to other ministers, including Rev. C. Jessell Strong.

Slaughter’s name dropping did not stop with Jones and Jackson. She said Applied Scholastics had a testimonial letter from Sumner Principal George Edwards, and she threw out such names as Harold Brown (aide to State Sen. Pat Dougherty), Congressman Lacy Clay, and former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education Rod Paige as people who had been in contact with Applied Scholastics. Not all of them may have known of Scientology’s connections to Applied Scholastics.

So extensive is her rolodex that on the Tuesday morning before the St. Louis school board was supposed to her a report on her group, Slaughter said that Paige’s former chief of staff, John Danielson, had spoken the night before to Lynn Spampinato in favor of Applied Scholastics. Spampinato is the chief academic officer of St. Louis Public Schools. At the school board meeting that night, Spampinato reported that she had talked to Danielson. While acknowledging an arms length tie between Scientology and Applied Scholastics, she said: “The academic program has some credibility.”

Seven years ago, a Boston Herald expose on the Church of Scientology concluded that the World Literacy Crusade, one of the 580 subsidiary organizations of Applied Scholastics, “is part of a nationwide effort by the church to entice blacks into Scientology and then convince them to take other, expensive programs, according to critics and former members of the church.” As part of that effort, Applied Scholastics gained the endorsement of prominent local African Americans, got their methods introduced into a handful of Boston schools, and established a charter school, the Delphi Academy, that even used Scientology e-meters on students.

St. Louis Public Schools appeared headed in a different direction, however. At the school board meeting on September 20, Superintendent Williams concluded the discussion on Applied Scholastics with the declaration “lesson learned.” He said he would instruct principals to stop sending teachers to the organization for training.

Meanwhile, Applied Scholastics is gearing up for a partnership with Hazelwood Public Schools as an approved provider of tutoring services to children, who attend underperforming schools in that north county school district.

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