Charter schools, like public schools, receive government money and must therefore stay out of the religion debate. That is to say there should be no proselytizing in the classroom one way or the other. The schools must remain secular.
Yet, the school is completely tearing down the wall of separation of state and mosque.
Katherine Kersten of the Star Tribune says that “TIZA is an Islamic school, funded by Minnesota taxpayers.”
What does she mean by that?
TIZA has many characteristics that suggest a religious school. It shares the headquarters building of the Muslim American Society of Minnesota, whose mission is “establishing Islam in Minnesota.” The building also houses a mosque. TIZA’s executive director, Asad Zaman, is a Muslim imam, or religious leader, and its sponsor is an organization called Islamic Relief.
Students pray daily, the cafeteria serves halal food – permissible under Islamic law — and “Islamic Studies” is offered at the end of the school day.
Some of that seems benign… Islamic students have a right to pray (if they choose) and the school can offer programs for a heavily Islamic student population.
But Kersten has a smoking gun: Amanda Getz was a substitute teacher at the school one day last month.
Getz has plenty of evidence that suggests TIZA is completely overstepping its bounds.
She gives us insight into how TIZA is a taxpayer-funded Islamic school.
Arriving on a Friday, the Muslim holy day, she says she was told that the day’s schedule included a “school assembly” in the gym after lunch.
Before the assembly, she says she was told, her duties would include taking her fifth-grade students to the bathroom, four at a time, to perform “their ritual washing.”
Afterward, Getz said, “teachers led the kids into the gym, where a man dressed in white with a white cap, who had been at the school all day,” was preparing to lead prayer. Beside him, another man “was prostrating himself in prayer on a carpet as the students entered.”
“The prayer I saw was not voluntary,” Getz said. “The kids were corralled by adults and required to go to the assembly where prayer occurred.”
Islamic Studies was also incorporated into the school day. “When I arrived, I was told ‘after school we have Islamic Studies,’ and I might have to stay for hall duty,” Getz said. “The teachers had written assignments on the blackboard for classes like math and social studies. Islamic Studies was the last one — the board said the kids were studying the Qu’ran. The students were told to copy it into their planner, along with everything else. That gave me the impression that Islamic Studies was a subject like any other.”
After school, Getz’s fifth-graders stayed in their classroom and the man in white who had led prayer in the gym came in to teach Islamic Studies. TIZA has in effect extended the school day — buses leave only after Islamic Studies is over. Getz did not see evidence of other extra-curricular activity, except for a group of small children playing outside. Significantly, 77 percent of TIZA parents say that their “main reason for choosing TIZA … was because of after-school programs conducted by various non-profit organizations at the end of the school period in the school building,” according to a TIZA report. TIZA may be the only school in Minnesota with this distinction.
How does something like this happen?
While Zaman says the school has been inspected “numerous times” by the Minnesota Department of Education, the MDoE only documents three visits to the school in five years, none of which focused on the school’s religious practices.
Zaman says the prayers are student-led and voluntary. Getz certainly didn’t think that was the case.
… prayer at TIZA does not appear to be spontaneously initiated by students, but rather scheduled, organized and promoted by school authorities.
How long will it be until the state puts a stop to this?
Some reviews are already underway.
The ACLU of Minnesota has launched an investigation of TIZA, and the Minnesota Department of Education has also begun a review.
Kersten gives us a final bit of analysis:
TIZA’s operation as a public, taxpayer-funded school is troubling on several fronts. TIZA is skirting the law by operating what is essentially an Islamic school at taxpayer expense. The Department of Education has failed to provide the oversight necessary to catch these illegalities, and appears to lack the tools to do so. In addition, there’s a double standard at work here — if TIZA were a Christian school, it would likely be gone in a heartbeat.
TIZA is now being held up as a national model for a new kind of charter school. If it passes legal muster, Minnesota taxpayers may soon find themselves footing the bill for a separate system of education for Muslims.
This story needs to be spread — hell, it’s a topic on which atheists and Christians should all be able to agree.