ACLU reaches $1.4M deal with TiZA trustee

  • Article by: PAT PHEIFER
  • Star Tribune
  • March 6, 2012 - 10:40 PM

The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota confirmed Tuesday that it has reached a $1.4 million settlement with the bankruptcy trustee for the now-defunct Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy (TiZA) over attorneys' fees and costs, another step toward the conclusion of a long legal battle over religion in a public school.

Although the ACLU has agreed to dismiss its lawsuit against the former public charter school and five named defendants, its claims against the school's former executive director, Asad Zaman, will continue.

The ACLU sued TiZA in January 2009, alleging that the school was using taxpayer money to promote Islam. Even after the school closed its campuses in Inver Grove Heights and Blaine and declared bankruptcy last year, the ACLU continued to press its case, saying it hoped to draw a "bright line" between religion and other Minnesota charter schools.

Chuck Samuelson, executive director of ACLU of Minnesota, said Tuesday that he believes the settlement does that.

"First of all, it's a million-four, and even though we're not going to see a dime of that, that's a big number," he said. Other charter schools will take note, he said, and "the case against Asad Zaman, who is most culpable in all of this, we believe, still goes on.

"We're hoping that we get a ruling from [U.S. District Judge Donovan W. Frank] saying the behavior outlined in this is over the line," Samuelson said.

He said he is hoping for a stiff penalty for Zaman -- "maybe he should be out of the charter school business for five years," Samuelson said. "We aren't negotiating. The ball's in his court."

Zaman said Tuesday that he had "no comment other than to say they are being very unreasonable."

Attorney Shamus O'Meara, who represents TiZA, did not return a call seeking comment.

Separately, Judge Frank authorized payments on Feb. 28 from the bankruptcy trustee to Islamic Relief USA for $623,172 in attorneys' fees and costs, and to the Minnesota Department of Education for $404,074.

Bankruptcy trustee John Hedback confirmed Tuesday that TiZA's bankruptcy case is continuing. He said he had "no idea" when it would be resolved.

Pat Pheifer • 952-746-3284

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