The American Civil Liberties Union is suing Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy and the MN Department of Education, alleging that TIZA violate separation of church and state, reports Tom Weber at MPR. ACLU state director Charles Samuelson was quoted in the Strib as saying the ACLU investigation of TIZA was sparked by former Strib columnist Katherine Kersten’s columns. Kersten repeatedly attacked TIZA last year in columns dated March 9, April 9, September 8, and October 26, while also publishing an email Q and A with TIZA’s principal on April 9.
TIZA serves mostly immigrant, mostly Muslim students, offering Arabic classes and setting aside optional prayer times. The ACLU claims that classroom time is lost and not made up, that a prayer is posted at the school’s entrance, and objects to its dress code. The dress code, says the complaint, prohibits girls, but not boys, from wearing short sleeves, requires older girls to wear ankle-length skirts or skirts with trousers underneath, and female teachers to be “covered from neck to wrist and ankle.” The complaint also alleges that TIZA makes excessive lease payments (which ultimately go to the Muslim American Society of MN) and that TIZA pays large salaries to the CEO and Board Chair ($100,000) of TIZA and to its Executive Director ($90,000), despite bylaws saying they shall serve without salary.
The MN Department of Education investigated TIZA last year and found it was not breaking the law, though it needed better separation of religious observances from the school day. As a charter school, TIZA is a tax-supported public school.
In the PiPress, Megan Boldt reports:
TiZA students, many of them recent immigrants, have had better than average success on state-required exams.
At the Inver Grove Heights campus, 86 percent of students are low income and about 70 percent are English language learners, according to state data for the 2006-07 school year.
In 2008, 80 percent of the students were proficient in math, compared with the statewide average of 66 percent.
In the Minneapolis E-democracy forum, Joe Nathan, director of the Center for School Change at the Humphrey Institute of the University of Minnesota, writes:
As a American Jew who strongly believes in the separation of church and state, I’d strongly oppose any public school promoting a religion. I’d
oppose public funds going to promote Judaism, Muslim, Christianity or
any other religion.
Having spent hours at Tarek, I’d say it is anything BUT a school devoted
to promotion of a single religion.
Moreover, the director of the MCLU acknowledged in a conversation today
that neither he nor anyone else had ever visited the schools. Fairness
would seem to dictate that before making allegations about a school (and
filing an expensive law suit, a complaining organization should visit
The MCLU director also acknowledged that there were not Muslim,
Hispanic-American or Asian American members on his board of directors.
“What difference does that make,” he asked.
Last year’s attacks in the press also resulted in death threats and other threatening emails and phone calls to TIZA. In a TC Daily Planet article, a Muslim ex-marine described sending his daughter to TIZA after she encountered anti-Muslim prejudice in her St. Paul public school.
Christian connections for charter schools meet with considerably less public attention and criticism. Several Twin Cities charter schools sponsored by Friends of Ascension use a “classical curriculum,” that Minnesota Independent’s Andy Birkey describes as “tinged with Christianity.” Nova Academy, in particular, made the news in 2005, with charges of elitism and of moving toward “a more Christian-centered philosophy” after it fired school director Dick Nunneley. (The January 21, 2005 Star Tribune article is no longer on-line, but is quoted in exchanges on Minneapolis E-Democracy.
One response to “ACLU vs. TIZA”
The ACLU suit seems like piling on. American Muslims, including Minnesota Muslims, and their institutions already have plenty of grief p;iled at their feet. Certainly there are Christian charters in the state whose offenses against the separation of church and state are as great or greater than TIZA’s. Children in this country are at very little risk of being coerced into Islam under color of state action. Is the same true of the reach and influence of Christianity?
So, what gives with the ACLU? Is this suit an obsequious attempt at “respectability”?