Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy — better known to readers of former Star Tribune writer Katherin Kersten’s column as TIZA — and its parent organization, Islamic Relief USA, are being hauled into federal court by the Minnesota chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union for violating the constitutional seperation of church and state.
Due to their oversight role of charter schools, the Minnesota Department of Education is also named as a plaintiff in the lawsuit that alleges TIZA funneled state money to organizations explicitly dedicated to promoting Islam.
“TIZA, its Board of Directors, and its sponsor Islamic Relief have set school policies that endorse and promote a single religion, Islam. They have used tax funds to sponsor and establish a school that is pervasively sectarian,” says the MN ACLU’s complaint, linked to from their press release. (h/t Andy Birkey at the Minnesota Independent)
Aside from Kersten’s broadsides, TIZA is also well-known for its exceptional success as a school with a high proportion of children recieving free or reduced-price lunch, a standard measurement of a school’s poverty level. The ACLU’s complaint mentions that TIZA’s students substantially exceed the performance of students at many other Minnesota public schools.
At the core of the ACLU’s argument is a web of organizational and personel relationships between TIZA’s leadership and its landlords at the Muslim-American Society of Minnesota, an “explicitly sectarian” organization, in the words of the complaint. In some cases, the ACLU claims, the same people held senior leadership positions in both organizations. The claim that TIZA explicitly promotes Islam is based on a littany of charges that school officials and teachers have created an explictly islamic atmosphere at the school. They have allowed religious material to be posted in classrooms and hallways, the ACLU’s court filing says, and actively participated in student- and parent-led Friday prayer services.
Perhaps the most damning allegation is that TIZA has been paying higher-than-market rent on its buildings, owned by the Muslim-American Society of Minnesota and the Minnesota Education Trust through property holding companies. In effect, the ACLU states, TIZA is channeling state money to a religious organization.
Why a bombshel, though? This filing dredges the TIZA case back to the surface, and certainly makes the school look particularly bad. The real impact will be seen today, when the Minnesota Association of Charter Schools announces their proposed overhaul of legislation regulating charter schools and charter school sponsors. More on that post-press conference this afternoon.
Update: Nekessa Opoti, writing in the TC Daily Planet, tells the story of one family caught in the middle when the last media circus descended on TIZA.
Update #2: David Brauer of MinnPost suggests the MDE didn’t aggressively investigate TIZA because it would have had to investigate charter schools, such as those run by the Christian group Friends of Ascension .