Education: Sponsor is delaying proposal for charter campus using study aids of Scientology founder because of family illness, backer says.
By DUKE HELFAND, L.A. Times Staff Writer
A proposal for a charter school featuring the teaching methods of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard has been withdrawn by its primary sponsor for personal reasons, according to her supporters.
Linda Smith, a veteran special education teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District and 16-year Church of Scientology member, had hoped to open the Northwest Charter School in the San Fernando Valley this fall. But she has postponed the plans while she cares for an ill family member, said Steve Hayes, an attorney who has been working with Smith on the committee planning the school.
Los Angeles school officials wondered if the controversy surrounding Smith’s proposal also played a role in her decision to delay the application, and pledged to scrutinize any new submission just as carefully.
“I can’t second-guess her reasons, but I’m assuming she may need to let things quiet down for a while,” said school board President Julie Korenstein. “It has been tremendously controversial, nationally and internationally.”
Smith, who could not be reached Wednesday, had originally pitched her charter school plan to the Board of Education in July without mentioning the use of the Hubbard materials or the fact that she is a Scientologist.
Her proposal immediately raised concerns among board members and civil libertarians over whether using Hubbard materials in classrooms would violate the constitutional separation of church and state. Other critics contended that the methods were a veiled attempt to introduce youngsters to Scientology, the Hollywood-based religion that has been variously described as a cult and a profit-driven enterprise.
Smith was scheduled to appear before the Board of Education next month to discuss a revised version of her proposal. She was expected to address a range of issues, from the Hubbard materials to finances and programs for special education students.
She could not meet the deadline because of her family troubles, Hayes said Wednesday.
In a letter Hayes sent to the district last week, he said Smith will resubmit her proposal in the spring.
“She’s had a lot of distractions because of her family, but she has every intention of going forward with this,” Hayes said.
Smith’s plans had called for about 100 students to attend kindergarten through grade 8 on a new campus to be established in the Sunland-Tujunga area; a site has yet to be secured.
Smith’s proposal called for her to be the principal of her proposed school, with most of her students drawn from private schools.
The Northwest curriculum would include standard texts, as well as the Hubbard Study Technology, which Smith said helps bolster student achievement by addressing three “barriers” to learning. Students use dictionaries to look up words they do not understand, apply their lessons to real life and master each rung of material to obtain a thorough understanding of a subject.
Smith and other proponents of the charter school continue to defend the use of the Hubbard study methods, which they call nonsectarian. They say the learning techniques are drawn from Hubbard’s educational technology and not his religious tenets.
Smith, 45, said she has been using the methods informally for two decades as a special education teacher, including the last six years at Esperanza Elementary School in downtown Los Angeles.
But Korenstein and other school board members said they remain unclear about the distinction between Hubbard’s religious teachings and his educational philosophies.
Korenstein said she expects the same concerns to arise in the spring when Smith resubmits her plan.
“If there continues to be any connection at all with Scientology, I would be derelict in my duties as a Board of Education member to support something like that,” she said. “There has to be a clear division between church and state.”
Board member David Tokofsky, who has publicly stated his opposition to the charter school, said a revised proposal will get close scrutiny.
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