We’ve written a lot about the Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy K-8 public charter school in suburban St. Paul. It appears to be is an Islamic school operating illegally at taxpayer expense. Among other things, school executive director Asad Zaman is an imam and almost all of its students are Muslim. As a charter school it was originally sponsored by Islamic Relief USA. The school is housed in a building that was owned by the Muslim American Society of Minnesota. The study of Arabic is required at the school. The Arabic comes in handy for the Koranic studies that follow the regular school day.
The ACLU Minnesota has brought a lawsuit challenging the legality of the school’s operation on public funds; the lawsuit is pending in federal court in Minnesota. Prompted by the reportage of then-Star Tribune metro columnist Katherine Kersten, the ACLU Minnesota commenced an investigation of the school. Concluding that the school was in fact operating illegally as a religious institution, the ACLU Minnesota filed the lawsuit. The ACLU Minnesota is represented in the lawsuit by Dorsey & Whitney, one of the most prominent law firms in the state.
One of the discoveries made in the case is fact that the signatures of Islamic Relief USA’s former president were forged on numerous documents submitted to the Minnesota Department of Education between 2002 and 2005. Among the forged signatures was the one on the original affidavit of intent to sponsor a charter school submitted by Islamic Relief USA and subsequent school applications for site and grade expansion.
From TiZA’s behavior in the lawsuit, you might almost think that the school has something to hide. And you would be right. In a recently filed motion, the Minnesota Department of Education disclosed a few of the items that TiZA has hiding. Among the department’s discoveries in the litigation is the fact that TiZA has made multiple misrepresentations to the department. These misrepresentations include potential conflicts of interest between TiZA and its sectarian landlord, TiZA’s relationship and shared resources with its sectarian co-tenant, and the sectarian nature of TiZA’s curriculum. According to the department, these misrepresentations formed the basis for the department’s determination that TiZA was operating legally.
The department filed a motion for dismissal of the claims against it. According to the department, TiZA’s departure from the straight and narrow has come as a surprise. The department sounds a little bit like Captain Renault in Casblanca. It is shocked, shocked to discover that, when its back is turned, Islam has been taught at a school headed by an imam and named for a great Muslim conqueror. Even Inspector Clouseau might have been able to crack this case, at least with a little help from Katherine Kersten.
Earlier this week the ACLU Minnesota settled its claims against Islamic Relief USA and the Minnesota Department of Education. The St. Paul Pioneer Press reports on the settlements here. According to the Pioneer Press, Islamic Relief USA has agreed to pay the ACLU $267,500. That’s a lot of dough, and that’s not all. As part of the settlement, Islamic Relief USA has also lined up two witnesses, including the group’s founder, to testify on behalf of the ACLU Minnesota at trial. What might those witnesses have to say? The Pioneer Press doesn’t go there.
From the Pioneer Press story, it appears that the Minnesota Department of Education has agreed to enforce the damn law. It will increase oversight of charter schools, presumably to monitor compliance with basic legal requirements.
The case against TiZA remains. The case is scheduled for a settlement conference today. Despite the blasé media reports on the settlements with the Department of Education and Islamic Relief USA, the ACLU Minnesota has obviously obtained some highly interesting evidence in the case. (The ACLU Minnesota has posted the motion papers filed in the case here.)
TiZA is, to say the least, a problematic organization. You have to wonder if the school isn’t run by a guy who should be reflecting on his actions somewhere in silence. Instead the Minneapolis Star Tribune has signed him up to opine on educational issues as one of its “community voices.” Does anyone over at the Star Tribune read the paper? If so, they might have noticed that that’s a helluva “community voice” they’re broadcasting.
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