Teachers Fired In Scientology Fuss Tell Stand

Source: Chicago Sun Times
Date: April 18, 1986

Susan and Robert Volenec were out of work and their two children were out of school yesterday after an uproar at a Park Ridge Montessori facility over books designed by Church of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.

The parents were among six teachers fired Wednesday by Janet Bowes, founder and director of Children's Learning World, 2703 W. Sibley, after they refused to use books designed by Hubbard. The school had nine teachers and one of the fired teachers returned yesterday, a school official said.

"I didn't feel like I wanted to include the Hubbard book in my curriculum," said Susan Volenec, in an interview at the couple's Arlington Heights home, where their two children, Matthew, 3, and Laurel, 2, were at play.

She and her husband, both full-time paid teachers, withdrew their children from the school after the six teachers were dismissed by Bowes, who said the teachers were fired "strictly" because they violated their contracts.

"We're not sure what we will do now," Susan said. "I had a long association with the school."

A school official said five of the fired teachers wanted to start another Montessori school and take students from Bowes' school.

Parent tells anger

A distraught parent, Patricia Fitzsimmons, of the Northwest Side, said yesterday she pulled her daughter, Bonnie, 8, out of school for the time being and added, "I totally disagree with this Hubbard method. I'm angry.

"It was terrible of her (Bowes) to fire the teachers and to put the children and the children's families through this stress. I've always been pleased with the teachers."

A number of upset parents descended on the school yesterday and said they were told by Bowes she wanted to meet with them individually over the next few days. "I'll meet with her and see what she has to say," Fitzsimmons said.

Bowes, a member of the Church of Scientology, said through a spokesman that the school, which has 215 students, did not introduce any religious studies to the curriculum. Bowes said problems began when she introduced a Hubbard publication, The Learning Book, into the curriculum.

"This is strictly a secular matter," Bowes said. "I'm the leader and I call the shots. These people refused to use study techniques that are used all over the world."

A spokesman for Bowes said the teaching method emphasizes how misunderstood words can hamper study of a subject.

Complaint needed

Bretta Weiss, national director of the New York-based American Montessori Society, a nonprofit group dedicated to Montessori education, said the group will investigate the Park Ridge school, if it receives a written complaint.

On use of Hubbard materials, Weiss said, "We don't exercise censorship over what our schools use, in terms of materials, so long as they meet our requirements. I couldn't go in and tell them not to use this book."

Weiss said she doesn't know if other Montessori schools are using Hubbard materials. "I've read several of Hubbard's books and, frankly, I'm not interested," she said.

Weiss said the society requires a Montessori-trained teacher in each classroom and said the group will watch closely to see that the Park Ridge school complies. All fired teachers were Montessori-trained.

Attorney Raymond J. Prosser, who represents the fired teachers, said they were "mulling over their options."