Scientology is focus of flap over Will Smith’s new school

In Los Angeles’ rarefied world of private schools, where tuitions are high, academics are tough and educational philosophy is taken seriously, the newest member of the tribe is getting the kind of breathless attention reserved for a music or film star.

That may be because the founders of New Village Academy are themselves such stars: Will Smith and his wife Jada Pinkett Smith. Entertainers have long flocked to private schools on the Westside and in the San Fernando Valley, where campuses are comparatively small, offer a discreet environment and are close to studios.

The Smiths, however, will be among the few celebrities — Oprah Winfrey, Andre Agassi and Tiger Woods among them — to establish their own school or program.

It is one of several initiatives by the couple, including a new foundation that will give grants to young people in the arts and education. About 80% of New Village students will receive financial assistance in the fall.

But the school’s Sept. 3 opening, on the leased campus of a former school in Calabasas, will be accompanied by a whiff of controversy. Some of its teachers are members of the Church of Scientology, and it will use teaching methods developed by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.

That has provoked a slew of headlines: On FOXNews.com, “Will Smith Funds Private Scientology School”; from Britain’s The Guardian, “Will Smith funds school teaching Scientology creator’s study method”; and on the religion blog of the Dallas Morning News, “Is Will Smith school a front for Scientology?”

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