Here are 20 questions sent in several e-mails by Katherine Kersten to Asad Zaman, executive director of Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy in Inver Grove Heights. Following each question is his answer.
1. You have stated that the Minnesota Department of Education "inspects TIZA regularly" to "ensure ... that we are not a religious school." In addition, a March 2007 article in Minnesota Monthly includes the following paragraph:
"Zaman takes pains to point out that his school ... is not a religious institution. That has been confirmed many times, he says -- state education officials inspected the academy 11 times during its first year. 'They really wanted to make sure,' Zaman says, smiling."
Please list dates of inspections that focused on ensuring that TIZA is not a religious school.
In what form were findings regarding these inspections documented to you? Please identify and quote all such findings.
Please list the dates of the inspections referred to in the Minnesota Monthly article.
A. Different divisions of the MDE have inspected TIZA numerous times and we have not been informed of any violations of encouraging or supporting religious activity. A complete record of dates & findings should be available from the MDE.
2. Do teachers take students in any grades to the bathroom to perform ablutions for afternoon prayers? Do teachers then take students in any grades to the prayer space?
A. MN Law requires public schools to supervise students at all times during the school day, including use of restrooms and periods where students exercise their constitutional right to pray. TIZA complies with this law.
3. Are students designated to lead prayer? Is some form of rotation used to designate prayer leaders? Who leads prayer among students in grades K-1? What percentage of students participates in prayer?
A. Since prayer is not mandated by TIZA, the school does not designate prayer leaders, nor do we monitor or keep statistics of students (including KG & 1st grade) who might pray.
4. Where are teachers during prayer time? Do they continue to observe students in any grade during prayer?
A. MN Law requires public schools to supervise students at all times during the school day, including periods where students exercise their constitutional right to pray. TIZA complies with this law. Supervision to maintain student safety is very different from teacher lead and encouragement of prayer.
5. Where and when do Muslim teachers perform Dhuhr prayers?
A. Staff of all religions are free to pray in the staff lounge, their offices and other private areas during their break time.
6. According to the ACLU of Minnesota, TIZA's web site recently included a request for volunteers to assist with "Friday prayers." Please describe the service these volunteers perform or performed.
A. That particular statement was placed with the intent to ensure that no TIZA staff members were involved in organizing the Friday prayers. Once the ACLU brought to our attention that this may have represented an appearance of impropriety, we immediately removed it although we have not been informed that there has been any legal violation of the law and we believe that we are not in any legal violation of the law.
7. On Friday afternoons, does an all-school assembly including prayer take place at the school? At what time does this typically occur? What percentage of students generally participates in this prayer service?
A. TIZA does NOT typically organize school assemblies on Friday. Students are released on Friday afternoons to either join a parent-led service or for study hall. Many students utilize both options, but we do not maintain such statistics.
8. Who is the gentleman who dresses in white and sometimes leads or participates in prayer at the assembly?
A. Many people dress in white. We do not track the garment colors of staff or visitors.
9. What besides prayer takes place during the Friday all-school assembly? Who speaks to students during that time? Is the topic at times religious in nature?
A. TIZA school assemblies are NOT for prayer, as your question implies. While TIZA school assemblies can occur on any day; they do NOT typically occur on Friday.
10. What entity conducts after-school religious instruction? Please identify the leaders or teachers in the after-school religious studies program and describe the nature of the program or programs.
A. The Muslim American Society of Minnesota is responsible for the program in question. I am not at liberty to provide a list of their staff members.
11. Who are the current members of TIZA's board? Who is the board chair? Are all board members Muslim? Please identify those who are not.
A. The current board members of TIZA are: Asad (Chair), Moira, Mohammed, Mahrous & Mona. To the best of my knowledge, at least one board member is Christian. I am not at liberty to disclose the religious affiliation of individual board members.
12. Do Muslim teachers attend the Friday all-school assembly? Do non-Muslim teachers attend it?
A. TIZA school assemblies are NOT for prayer, as your question implies. While TIZA school assemblies can occur on any day; they do NOT typically occur on Friday. TIZA Staff like all employees in MN are at liberty to exercise their constitutional right to pray. Some of them probably exercise that right, others choose not to.
13. Please list all after-school extra-curricular activities available at TIZA, including the names of the leaders or teachers of such activities.
A. TIZA currently offers three after school programs. The afore-mentioned programs are "non-sectarian" in nature in regards to the programming provided by TIZA. I believe that Human Resources information about individual TIZA employees is confidential. In addition, based on student demand the Boys Scouts, MASMN & the Girls Scouts currently offer optional after school programs to TIZA students. No TIZA funds are expended for programs run by other organizations.
14. Are after-school activities required at TIZA? What percentage of students participate in after-school activities? What do students who stay at school but do not participate in after-school activities do until buses come? How are these students supervised?
A. Answers to your multi-part question are provided below.
a. No. After school programs are not required. They are all optional.
b. It is difficult to determine the percentage of student participation because some students do not participate in any program while other students participate in more than one program.
c. At the end of school hours, students are free to leave at any time. Students who choose to stay have one or more free non-sectarian program options to choose from. Bus transportation is provided at 4:15. Based on our budgetary constraints, this was the earliest time we could negotiate with the bus vendor. This time was also recommended to us through a vote of a majority of parents.
d. Students are at TIZA are supervised according to the Responsive Classroom methodology.
15. Is bus transportation provided for students who wish to leave at the end of the regular school day? If not, how do such students get home?
A. At the end of school hours, students are free to leave at any time. Students who choose to stay have one or more free non-sectarian program options to choose from. Bus transportation is provided at 4:15. Based on our budgetary constraints, this was the earliest time we could negotiate with the bus vendor. This time was also recommended to us through a vote of a majority of parents.
16. Please provide by fax any letter/communication distributed to parents to inform them about after-school activities available at TIZA, along with the form/s that parents use to sign up their children for after-school activities, including religious instruction.
A. You have already submitted a Government Data Practices Act request. You are welcome to include this data in your request.
17. Please list after-school activities for which students are required to pay.
A. All of the optional after school programs currently offered by TIZA are free. The optional programs offered by the Boys Scouts, MASMN & the Girls Scouts are not free. No TIZA funds are expended for programs run by other organizations.
18. What percentage of the students at TIZA are Muslim?
A. As a public school, we do not ask about the religious affiliation of our students.
19) What is the size of TIZA's student body?
A. Approximately 410
20) Do you typically attend the Friday "parent-led" service you mention in your answer to question 7, or have you attended the service in the past? How many times did you attend the parent-led service in March 2008?
A. It is NOT my practice to attend the Friday "parent-led" mid-day service at the school. I have NOT attended any Friday "parent-led" mid-day service in March 2008.
During his e-mail correspondence with Katherine Kersten, Asad Zaman included this information about Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy:
FOR THE RECORD:
- Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy operates a non sectarian public school program and offers services to all students without regard to their race, creed, ethnic origin, gender or disability status.
- As public servants administering public schools we strive to maintain the non sectarian nature of our programs as mandated by state law, while also fully upholding the federal rights of students to practice the religion of their choice described under Section 9524 of the ESEA. We are fully committed to performing our duties under both sets of statutes.
- We have been visited & inspected numerous times by various divisions of the MN Department of Education. We are in full compliance with the law.
- In the past, we have also been visited by MN legislators, Lt. Governor Molnau, Commissioner Seagren and the Mayor of Inver Grove Heights.