The Pershing County School Board has ordered the discontinuation of a study program currently being used at Pershing County Middle School until further research could be done by the school board members. The decision was due to the concern of many people in the community regarding this program.
The motion was made at a special meeting of the school board on Tuesday, Aug. 26. The chief concerns include the fact that the books being used in the program are authored by L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of the Church of Scientology and that the terms used in the books may be the fundamental basis for the Church of Scientology.
This study method is called LEAP, Literacy and Education Awareness Project and comes from a non-profit company called Applied Scholastics. While the program has been used within the school district for over a year, the concerns were just recently raised when Pershing County High School teacher Valdine McLean learned of the program’s connection to Hubbard and the Church of Scientology.
Once aware of the connection, McLean said she expanded her research and also started notifying people in the public about what she had learned.
At the regular meeting of the school board on Monday, Aug.18, a number of Pershing County residents attended the meeting to voice their concerns about the study method.
At the meeting McLean said that through her research of Applied Scholastics she learned that the program has a direct link to the Church of Scientology.
She said that L. Ron Hubbard is as revered in the Church of Scientology as the pope is in Catholicism and Joseph Smith is with the Church of Latter Day Saints. She said, the fact that he authored the books concerns her.
“My question is, if the pope’s name was on any public books,” McLean said, “would it be appropriate for school?” She said that she would think that it was not.
McLean said that while the books say nothing directly about scientology, the terms used in the books are the fundamental basis for the Church of Scientology. McLean provided information to the board that showed that the three principles of the study method are also fundamentals in the Church of Scientology.
School board president Shane Tacker asked the rest of the board if they felt that the issue needed to be looked at further. Board member Todd Plimpton was absent from the meeting, but board members Brad Arnold, Rene Childs and Rachel Clingan all agreed that the issue needed to be further researched and reviewed at a future board meeting.
Later in the meeting, Special Programs Coordinator Anita Fisk, who was instrumental in bringing the project to Lovelock, and Debra Scilacci, PCMS teacher, spoke about the program. Fisk urged the board to talk to the teachers before making a decision about whether or not to use the program. She also said that there was nothing underhanded on her part to hide anything about the program. Scilacci has been using the program in her classes and presented the board with information on how the program helped in her summer school classes.
Thacker asked Fisk if she felt it was a time-sensitive item that needed to be decided on sooner rather than later. Fisk said that because of the grant money which would pay for the continuation of the program and because the teachers need to know if they will be using the program this year, it was a time-sensitive item.
The board decided to hold the special board meeting to receive further information.
The members of the school board were given a packet of information that would help them in making their decision.
In addition to the information provided by McLean, there was also information compiled by Scilacci during the 2003 Summer school session. The information had several charts, including one that showed how the average ending grade level increased from the average beginning grade level in several subjects.
Also included in the packet were samples of research date associated with the study program, Applied Scholastics’ application of incorporation as a non-profit educational research agency, articles about the successful implementation of study technology and testimonies in favor of the program.
During the special board meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 26, the room was packed by more than 100 people. Dave Noonan from the University of Nevada facilitated the meeting so that the board members could concentrate on the information and testimony being given.
Superintendent of schools Dan Fox spoke first, giving a brief history of the program in Pershing County. He said that the program was approved by the school board just like any other educational program.
Fisk said that the study is used across the United States in private and public schools. She said that the books used in the program do not proselytize for any religion. She explained that if any funding were being diverted from Applied Scholastics to any religion, it would not be non-profit. She said that 28 teachers that had initial training with the program moved forward with additional training.
She said that she was told that if Hubbard’s name wasn’t on the book’s cover and the words used in the program were changed to not be so similar to those words used in Scientology, the program wouldn’t be as objectionable.
“Is a rose by any other name not still a rose?” Fisk asked. According to her the program would still be the same.
Of those teachers that attended the training, Fisk said that no teacher has been told that they have to teach the program a specific way. Instead, they were told they could apply the program any way they choose.
PCMS Principal Charles Safford said that he has looked through the books and has determined that they are secular. He said that several PCMS teachers said that they would like to add the study method to their curriculum. He said that district staff members who are in favor of the program asked him not to use their names because they were concerned of people’s reaction.
Several people from out of town spoke positively about the program. The people included LEAP staff members and Ed Fila, a representative from a Utah-based company called Innovations in Education. Fila said that several schools in Utah use this program including the best academic school in Utah.
Those who spoke in favor of the program included Scilacci, PCMS Counselor Donna Seager and others.
Seager said that when she went through the training she was excited about the educational possibilities. She said that it can be used with several ages of students and up to college students and adults.
Scilacci said that the program does meet Nevada standards and is not religiously connected.
“I do not teach Scientology in my classroom, I teach dictionary use and I teach study skills,” Scilacci said.
McLean, Quint Hughes, Richard Wagner, Tom Moura, Walter and Coni Jo Brinkerhoff were amongst those that were opposed to the program.
McLean said that it is her faith as a Catholic that has prompted her to do what she has done.
“What else do I have to gain by being here?” She asked.
She said that it was interesting that people from Las Vegas, Utah and California had to be brought in to testify for the program. She said that she doesn’t care how good the program is and if it does raise test scores if it undermines people’s faith.
McLean said that she wasn’t there to make accusations against school district staff, she was there to demonstrate her concern that the program violated the separation of church and state. She said that a strong connection between the study method and Scientology is that the same publisher published both the program materials and Scientology books. McLean also said that on the Church of Scientology’s website, the Church claims the books as their own.
She said that The Watchtower, a publication put out by the Jehovah’s Witnesses would not be accepted in the classroom. According to McLean, having Hubbard’s name on the books makes those books equivalent to the The Watchtower.
McLean received a round of applause when she was done speaking.
Hughes spoke as a parent of a student in the district. He said that he objects to the program because of the connection to Scientology.
Wagner said that he was there to speak as an individual. He said that he didn’t care if the program was good or bad, he cared if it was constitutional. He said that there could be a violation of constitutional rights if the board decided to use the program despite the concerns of the citizen. He stated that he had a problem with the usage of the program.
He showed a copy of the booklet being used with the instruction of teachers. He asked that if the name L. Ron Hubbard was replaced with the name Jesus Christ, a cross placed on the cover and a synopsis of Hubbard’s life inside the book was replaced with a synopsis of Christ’s life, would it be allowed in schools?
“That’s what this is about,” he said.
Wagner said that the words used in the program are the indoctrination words used in Scientology. “I don’t care what any of you say, I know that’s true,” he said. He added that this situation is a violation of the separation of church and state.
Moura said that he is skeptical about the program because it has Hubbard’s name on the books. He said that looking back on his own schooling, he had a teacher that pushed the use of the dictionary just like this program does. “Why has that been lost?” Moura asked. He said that he would encourage other existing programs to reach for the same goals as Applied Scholastics. He also encouraged the district to urge staff to use a dictionary in their classrooms.
Walter Brinkerhoff said that he supported McLean in the research she has done. He said that he was told that the program is one of the top ten education programs. He then suggested looking into the other nine and going with one that doesn’t create such concern in the community. Coni Jo Brinkerhoff, Senior English teacher at Pershing County High School, also urged the board to look into other successful programs.
Lovelock Elementary Literacy Specialists Sandy Condie and Shea Murphy said that the Applied Scholastics is drastically different than the reading methods they are teaching in elementary school. They were both concerned about the differences between the two programs and the different teaching methods that students would receive.
Board member Todd Plimpton said that he would like time to digest all the information. He said that in all his years on the school board he has never seen so much public interest.
The other board members agreed that they needed more time to look at all the information. Plimpton made a motion to discontinue use of all materials related to the program until a final determination could be made. Arnold seconded the motion and it was passed.
Fisk asked for a clarification of the motion. She was told that the books are not to be used, but teachers are to continue using their best teaching methods.
Another special board meeting was set up for Tuesday, September 2at 5:15. The location is yet to be determined, but Fox said that he would try to find a location to better suit the number of people. Tacker said that the next special meeting won’t be for testimony, but to give the school board an opportunity to discuss the issue amongst themselves and make a final decision.
An audience member asked why it seemed that the program was brought in the back door. Board member Clingan said that it wasn’t brought in the back door. Both the initial presentation and the approval of the program were on the school board agenda.
In an interview McLean said that much of her research was based on an essay on Scientology’s Study Technology and compares the terms used in the Applied Scholastics program to the terms used in the Church of Scientology. She said that website can be found at www.studytech.org/study_tech.php McLean said that all the information on the website can be validated. It offers weblinks to where the information was obtained from and all the words are used in the same way.