Thursday, January 22, 2009

ACLU Sues Muslim School Over Religion

The Minnesota chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union says it's suing a charter school that caters to Muslim students. The ACLU names Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy, or TiZA, and the Minnesota Department of Education in a lawsuit in federal court that says the charter school is using taxpayer money to illegally promote religion. The charter school, which has campuses in Inver Grove Heights and Blaine, has fallen under fire after a substitute teacher claimed the school was offering religious instruction in Islam to its students. After investigating the school last year, the Education Department said the school hadn't broken any laws. In a statement issued Wednesday, the department saiad they're 'carefully reviewing the lawsuit and will thoroughly respond.' "We will continue to monitor the operations of TiZA Academy and, in response to issues raised about the school over the past year, we are in the process of drafting legislation to address these concerns," wrote Deputy Commissioner Chas Anderson. The state's report directed the charter school to "correct" two areas related to religion at the school."The Minnesota Department of Education goes to great lengths to make clear to charter schools and their sponsors that, while schools should appropriately accommodate students' religious beliefs, they must be 'nonsectarian' under the state's charter school law," Anderson said in May. The department noted concerned about the school accommodating communal prayer and providing transportation to an after-school religious program for its approximately 300 students. "We have directed the school to take appropriate corrective actions regarding these matters and will continue to provide oversight to ensure that the school is in compliance with state and federal law," Anderson said. In an attempt to cover the state's findings in May, a local news crew visited the Inver Grove Heights campus to talk with school officials. While on school grounds, school administrators confronted the crew and our photographer was injured while wrestling with two men over a camera. Our photographer was examined by paramedics, who suffered minor shoulder and back injuries. The Inver Grove Heights city attorney did not file charges between the news affiliate and TiZA officials. In July, the office said there was no basis to file criminal trespassing or assault charges.