An April 30 letter to the Star Tribune mischaracterized my role in the controversy surrounding Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy (TIZA). The writer suggested I was wrong to defend the school from charges made by departed Star Tribune columnist Katherine Kersten that the school was illegally promoting Islam.
In response to questions prompted by Kersten’s original columns, I visited the school at the invitation of former Republican legislator Peg Larson, accompanied by several Republican education committee members. During our visit we learned that the school, authorized by the Minnesota Department of Education under former Commissioner Cheri Yecke, followed the U.S. Department of Education’s “Guidance on Constitutionally Protected Prayer in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools,” — guidelines enacted by the Bush administration.
Subsequently, two concerns were correctly identified by the state Education Department and addressed by the school. Appropriately, it continues to investigate concerns regarding teacher licensure at the school.
Many of us are uncomfortable with federal guidelines that make wide-ranging accommodations for religious expression in public schools. As an ardent supporter of church and state separation, I include myself in that category.
Current state and federal law require religious accommodations to be extended, provided they are done so equally, without regard to religious preference. That was the issue that prompted my involvement, placing me in the ironic position of defending protected school prayer. It was, and continues to be, unfair for TIZA to be criticized for following the same guidelines other schools follow without receiving similar objections.
It is the duty of the majority to stand up for the minority, and far too often we’ve not taken that duty to heart. My goal will always be to ensure every student is subject to fair and equal treatment under the law. Sadly, in a post-9/11 world, Muslims and those who defend them are far too often viewed with suspicion and hostility, as evidenced by the incendiary words of the letter writer.
Rep. Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville; chairwoman, House K-12 Education Finance Division