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Minnesota’s taxpayer-funded madrassa

Posted by Richard on April 12, 2008

Imagine a public charter school co-located with an evangelical Christian church and filled with Christian symbols, where learning how to be a good Christian and practicing Christian rituals are part of the school day, where fundamentalist Christian ministers lead daily prayers that all students have to attend, and where the buses don't take kids home until after the "optional" after-school Christian Studies program. Can you imagine the reaction from the National Education Association, American Civil Liberties Union, People for the American Way, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and countless other liberal/progressive organizations?

I suspect that hours after the news got out, there would be pickets in front of the school, rallies at City Hall and the Board of Education, and scores of pro bono attorneys filing lawsuits and motions for restraining orders in every courtroom within a hundred miles. 

Apparently, Jefferson's "wall of separation" has an exemption for Islam. Or maybe the people who eagerly pursue an in-your-face adversarial stance toward Christianity, who work tirelessly to banish creches, Christmas trees, and St. Nicholas from the public square, are just a bit more reluctant to confront Muslims.

I remember a story last year about a taxpayer-funded New York madrassa. It seems there's one in Minnesota, too, and the usual defenders of secular public schools are looking into complaints and queries very reluctantly, cautiously, and slowly — if at all.

Katherine Kersten of the Star-Tribune first wrote about the Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy (TIZA) — a K-8 charter school in Inver Grove Heights named after the Muslim conqueror of Spain — more than a month ago. She revisited the topic this week. It's not hard to find evidence that this school promotes Islam: 

TIZA has many characteristics that suggest a religious school. It shares the headquarters building of the Muslim American Society of Minnesota, whose mission is "establishing Islam in Minnesota." The building also houses a mosque. TIZA's executive director, Asad Zaman, is a Muslim imam, or religious leader, and its sponsor is an organization called Islamic Relief.

Students pray daily, the cafeteria serves halal food – permissible under Islamic law — and "Islamic Studies" is offered at the end of the school day.

The imam denied that TIZA is a religious school, but wouldn't let Kersten visit and simply didn't respond to additional inquiries. Apparently, nothing was done by anyone in the wake of Kersten's first report about this taxpayer-funded Islamic school — no investigations, lawsuits, outcries, pickets, or demonstrations from the many zealous guardians of Jefferson's "wall of separation." 

Kersten's new story adds an eyewitness account — by substitute teacher Amanda Getz — from inside the school:

Arriving on a Friday, the Muslim holy day, she says she was told that the day's schedule included a "school assembly" in the gym after lunch.

Before the assembly, she says she was told, her duties would include taking her fifth-grade students to the bathroom, four at a time, to perform "their ritual washing."

Afterward, Getz said, "teachers led the kids into the gym, where a man dressed in white with a white cap, who had been at the school all day," was preparing to lead prayer. …

"The prayer I saw was not voluntary," Getz said. "The kids were corralled by adults and required to go to the assembly where prayer occurred."

… "When I arrived, I was told 'after school we have Islamic Studies,' and I might have to stay for hall duty," Getz said. "The teachers had written assignments on the blackboard for classes like math and social studies. Islamic Studies was the last one — the board said the kids were studying the Qu'ran. The students were told to copy it into their planner, along with everything else. That gave me the impression that Islamic Studies was a subject like any other."

After school, Getz's fifth-graders stayed in their classroom and the man in white who had led prayer in the gym came in to teach Islamic Studies. TIZA has in effect extended the school day — buses leave only after Islamic Studies is over. Getz did not see evidence of other extra-curricular activity, except for a group of small children playing outside. Significantly, 77 percent of TIZA parents say that their "main reason for choosing TIZA … was because of after-school programs conducted by various non-profit organizations at the end of the school period in the school building," according to a TIZA report. TIZA may be the only school in Minnesota with this distinction.

There's more. Why doesn't the Minnesota Department of Education do something about this massive breach in Jefferson's wall? They said they hadn't received any complaints.

After a month of inquiries, news reports, and complaints, the Department decided to conduct "a review" of the school, and the ACLU said it's begun "an investigation." 

If this were the John Calvin Academy run by the Rev. Billy Bob Tubthumper of Faith Evangelical Christian Bible Fellowship Church, it would have been shut down two weeks ago, and state psychologists and social workers would be interviewing the students, looking for evidence of abuse.

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