By Valerie Strauss
The Washington Post, February 27, 2012
Link to original article
A public charter school in the Florida city of Clearwater — the headquarters of the Church of Scientology — is being accused of using Scientology study methods with students.
The Tampa Bay Times reported that parents and former teachers had complained about Life Force Arts and Technology Academy, which is being run by a management company whose president, Hanan Islam, was executive director of an organization called the World Literacy Crusade which promotes Scientology study methods.
Islam had assured parents that no religion would be promoted at the public charter school, the Times reported. But former teachers say that they were forced to use a study technique pioneered by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, and each received a guide that explained how they should use it with children. Teachers also received training in a Scientology-designed phonics program, the Times said.
The school, which receives about $800,000 in public money each year, is under bankruptcy protection, which, according to the Times, has hindered the Pinellas County School District’s attempts to close the school.
Scientologists say the “study technique” is non-religious. Critics of Scientology say that the materials use language important in Scientology’s religious teachings, and the program is a way to start indoctrinating young children into Scientology doctrine.
This underscores continuing oversight problems with some charter schools across the country. The Scientology-Life Force connection has been known publicly for some time, yet the school remains open, despite laws that forbid religious indoctrination in public schools.
Late last year, an investigation by NPR’s StateImpact Florida and the Miami Herald showed that 86 percent of the charter schools in the Sunshine State have no students with severe disabilities — despite both state and federal laws that mandate equal access to all students in charter schools.
This problem is not limited to Florida; there are lawsuits around the country, including in New Orleans, about charter schools failing to serve students with special needs.
Yet a new study by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers says: “In 2010-2011, 6.2 percent of charter schools that were reviewed for renewal were closed, down from 8.8 percent in 2009-2010 and 12.6 percent in 2008-2009. This decline could reflect numerous factors, including state laws influencing charter oversight, an improvement in the quality of charters, changes in authorizing practices, and political pressure to keep poor-performing charter schools open.”