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Sep
13

Minnesota State Officials To See If State Money Used For Mosques On School Campuses

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Local media is reporting on whether public money has been improperly used to pay for Islamic mosques on school campuses operated by a controversial Islamic school in Minnesota. According to a report in the Star Tribune:

Chas Anderson, deputy commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Education, said officials will study Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy’s (TiZA) use of state “lease aid” grants, which were created more than a decade ago to help charter schools rent adequate facilities. “If it is subsidizing a mosque, in our view, that would be a violation of state and federal law,” Anderson said.The probe is the latest in a series of church-vs.-state conflicts involving TiZA and several Islamic nonprofit organizations with ties to the charter school. Anderson said the inquiry was sparked by a lawsuit filed against the school this year by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Minnesota, which claims taxpayer dollars paid to TiZA are unconstitutionally promoting religion. TiZA spokesman Darin Broton said the school will cooperate, but he accused officials of conducting a politically motivated investigation. He said the department has conducted 19 TiZA inquiries in the past year and a half. “The behavior of the Minnesota Department of Education regarding TiZA Academy continues to confound common sense or conscience,” Broton said in a statement Friday. “At some point we trust they will focus on student achievement not discriminatory harassment.” In letters written late Friday, TiZA threatened to sue the state for $1.5 million on defamation charges for publicly disclosing the investigation. In a letter to Attorney General Lori Swanson, TiZA attorney Erick Kaardal said the probe was launched as part of an effort to “discriminate” against the school “because of the student population’s mix of races and religious beliefs.” Since opening in 2003 as a public charter school, TiZA has received a total of $2.23 million in rent money from the state’s lease aid program, records show.

The Star Tribune has also reported on the controversy surrounding the links between TiZA and another group seeking to sponsor a local charter school:

A nonprofit organization with links to a charter school accused of promoting Islam is battling the state over sponsorship of a different school in Morton, Minn. The group, Minnesota Education Trust (MET), has applied to oversee at least five new or existing charter schools since 2008, but it has been rejected by the state Education Department every time. The group has taken the dispute to Ramsey County District Court, where a hearing is set for Thursday, in its quest to compel state officials to approve a recent sponsorship proposal. MET seeks to oversee Eci’ Nompa Woonspe’, a small Morton charter school that emphasizes American Indian culture. The Education Department denied the application because a new state law forbids religious groups from sponsoring charter schools, and MET has a “sectarian nature and mission,” state Education Commissioner Alice Seagren said in a letter to the group last week. Seagren’s letter laid out a list of “entanglements” that she said MET has with the Muslim American Society of Minnesota. She also pointed out that several people who helped found the group have ties to Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy (TiZA), including the school’s principals. TiZA, a charter school with campuses in Inver Grove Heights and Blaine, faces a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, which claims the public school illegally promotes Islam. MET’s founders were motivated partly by a desire to foster better relationships between Muslims and non-Muslims, but the group is not sectarian, said MET board member Wayne Jennings. “We just got fed up,” Jennings said of the group’s legal action. “We felt we were being treated unfairly, and felt that we fulfilled the legal requirements of being a sponsor, and we couldn’t get the department to meet about this.

An earlier post discussed the connections between TIZA and the Muslim American Society (MAS) and Islamic Relief as well as the Islamic character of the school. The MAS was established in 1993 by leaders of the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood and a Hudson Institute report has discussed the relationship of the MAS to both the Egyptian and U.S. Muslim Brotherhood. Another post has discussed the Brotherhood ties of Islamic Relief as well as corruption charges against the global charity.

Other posts have discussed other aspects of the controversies surrounding TiZA.

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