An Inver Grove Heights charter school that came under investigation by the state Department of Education in the spring over allegations that it illegally promoted the Muslim faith will make changes this fall in the way it accommodates student prayer.
Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy (TIZA) will reduce the length of voluntary Friday prayers and have staff members who wish to pray do so in a room separate from students, according to a letter school director Asad Zaman sent to the Minnesota Department of Education. The school, responding to the state investigation, has maintained that it has been in compliance with state and federal laws.
In a letter to TIZA on Friday, the department said the planned change may satisfy the laws, specifying that adults -- including parents or other community members -- should have no role in leading student prayers.
The school told the department it would continue to have some staff members present during prayers to ensure student safety.
The department had questioned whether the Friday prayers, which lasted 30 minutes at the charter school last year, took up so much time that they burdened non-praying students and reduced the school's instructional hours below state requirements. But Zaman told the state that, excluding prayer time, the school still exceeded the state's minimum for teaching time.
State officials also told Zaman this spring that they were concerned about the appearance created by the fact that the school does not provide busing for its students right after school. Instead, buses leave when after-school activities wrap up. Those activities include a religious studies course taught by the Muslim American Society attended by more than half the students last year.
The school countered that an "overwhelming majority" of parents preferred the later bus departure time and said it would reimburse families who wanted to arrange earlier transportation, a position that satisfied the state.
The department said it would visit the school to make sure the changes have been made.
Sarah Lemagie • 952-882-9016