We may learn about its possible links to missing Somali youth, MAS-MN.
The ACLU of Minnesota made headlines in January when it sued Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy (TiZA), a public K-8 charter school in Inver Grove Heights. The suit -- which followed media reports of organized prayers and a pervasive religious environment at TiZA -- alleged that the school is violating constitutional prohibitions against government endorsement of religion.
"It's a theocratic school," state ACLU director Chuck Samuelson told City Pages. "It is as plain as the substantial nose on my face."
In the six months since the suit was filed, TiZA has fought tooth and nail -- erecting procedural barriers to prevent the ACLU from investigating what goes on there.
The school's efforts to avoid public scrutiny are part of a well-established pattern.
TiZA's staff handbook requires silence about the school's internal operations, according to the ACLU complaint. Staff members who speak publicly without permission are threatened with disciplinary action, including immediate termination, and with legal action if they reveal details even after they leave the school's employ.
Does that sound like the public, taxpayer-financed school down your block?
The reasons for TiZA's obsession with secrecy may become clear if the ACLU prevails on pending motions regarding its "standing to sue." A court ruling is expected soon.
The ACLU suit may reveal a Minnesota public school that is funneling state funds to an activist Islamic organization, and has connections to a controversial imam whose mosque is under scrutiny in the case of the disappearing Twin Cities Somali youths.
TiZA is housed in the headquarters of the Muslim American Society of Minnesota (MAS-MN). The school and MAS-MN have "operated hand-in-glove" since "the moment they were incorporated on the same day by the same person," according to an ACLU court filing.
MAS-MN seeks "to reestablish Islam as a total way of life." Its website has featured "enlightening information" about Islam -- removed after media reports -- including "Regularly make the intention to go on jihad with the ambition to die as a martyr."
TiZA's byzantine entwinement with MAS-MN and other Muslim organizations raises serious questions -- both of constitutionality and of potential misuse of taxpayer dollars.
For example, Imam Asad Zaman is TiZA's principal, and has served recently as MAS-MN vice president and spokesperson. In what the ACLU calls a "conflict of interest," he also controls the books of the holding company that owns the MAS-MN building, which his school rents.
Perhaps it's not surprising, then, that "MAS Minnesota Property Holding Corp. donates rent that it receives to MAS-MN, thus effectively transferring government funds intended by the State ... for charter schools to a sectarian organization devoted to the advancement of Islam," according to the complaint.
The ACLU suit may also shed light on whether a link exists between TiZA/MAS-MN actors and the disappearing Somali youths who turn up among jihad fighters in Somalia. A key figure here is Imam Hassan Mohamud, a founding TiZA board member and "director/developer" who has served as the school's board secretary. According to news reports, he is also director of MAS-MN's Islamic Law Institute. In 2006, he signed the MAS-MN "fatwa" forbidding Muslim airport taxi drivers from "cooperating in sin" by transporting passengers carrying alcohol.
Mohamud serves as imam at Minnesota Dawah Institute in St. Paul -- a target of scrutiny in the missing youths case. Some of the missing boys' parents say "their sons spent a lot of time" at Dawah Institute, according to National Public Radio. Mohamud has denied that the mosque played any role in the disappearances. In January, he told the Star Tribune that no one from the mosque had left for Somalia "except one man who went for his health."
The ACLU complaint hints at other questions, including how TiZA obtains its "striking" test scores with so many students in poverty -- 53 percent and 87 percent, respectively, at its Blaine and Inver Grove Heights campuses. In the 2008 state assessments, "TiZA's Blaine campus nonetheless reported that 100 percent of its students scored at or above grade level in both math and reading, a result not claimed" by any other Minnesota school, public or private, "reporting even a single student living in poverty."
Last spring, a Minnesota Department of Education investigation revealed that many TiZA teachers did not appear to be properly licensed, and that aides or paraprofessionals had apparently led classes that should have been taught by teachers. If so, how did TiZA obtain its high test scores?
In the months ahead, we may learn the answers to all these questions.
Katherine Kersten is a Twin Cities writer and speaker. Reach her at email@example.com.