Once again the Islamic Saudi Academy , 8333 Richmond Highway, in Mount Vernon District, Fairfax County, is being charged with having hate and violence embedded in their curriculum and textbooks. However, this time attacks against the school have been compounded by the arrest of its Director General and the heated political contest for the 11th District Congressional seat.
Debate about the school's curriculum was ignited in October 2007 when the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom issued a report calling for the school's closure "until such time as the official Saudi textbooks used at the ISA are made available for comprehensive public examination in the United States." They also sought action by the U.S. State Department and the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors .
The latter became embroiled in the controversy because the school building, a former Fairfax County Public Schools building, is leased to the academy by the Board of Supervisors. That lease was due for renewal this month at the time of the original Commission report. The Board unanimously approved a one year renewal at its recent meeting.
However, that renewal occurred following the arrest of the school's Director General Abdalla I. Al-Shabnan resulting from his failure to report a complaint from a five year old female student at the school that she was allegedly being sexually abused by her father. Al-Shabnan has been charged by Fairfax County Police with two misdemeanors, failing to report and obstruction of justice, for not reporting the girl's accusations.
Al-Shabnan has claimed that he did not believe the girl and advised the parents to seek psychiatric help for the child. However, he also ordered the school's computers to be purged of a report about the complaint incident, according to police.
Although a trial date has not been set as of this writing, misdemeanor cases are usually heard in Fairfax County General District Court within 30 to 60 days of an arrest, according Fairfax County Police Officer Eddie Azcarate, PIO. Al-Shabnan was required to report the incident under the Virginia Code applicable to physicians, nurses, teachers, school heads and others.
The code specifically states that the requirement to report such incidents is applicable to "Any teacher or other person employed in a public or private school, kindergarten or nursery." It also states: "All persons required by this subsection to report suspected abuse or neglect who maintain a record of a child who is the subject of such a report shall cooperate with the investigating agency and shall make related information, records and reports available to the investigating agency unless such disclosure violates the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act."
Any individual required to make such a report as defined by the Virginia Code must do so within 72 hours of gaining the knowledge. Failure to do so within that time frame can result in a fine of "$500 for the first failure" and fines of not less than $100 or more than $1,000 for subsequent failures.
THE ARREST OF Al-Shabnan, coupled with renewed calls by the Commission this month with reference to the school's textbooks and curriculum, triggered a protest at the school on June 17 by a about a dozen members of a lobbying group known as the Traditional Values Coalition. His arrest also brought forth statements from the election of campaigns of State Senator Ken Cuccinelli (R-37), running for Virginia Attorney General, and the Republican candidate for the 11th Congressional District, Keith Fimian.
Coalition members carried signs proclaiming "Honk to Stop Islamic Terrorism" and "This Saudi School is Anti-Semitic and Anti Christian." They maintained that the school's curriculum and textbooks justify killing of non-Muslims based on Islamic believes.
However, when representatives of the group were invited to enter the school and observe classroom teaching they refused, according to ISA's Education Director Rahim Abdullah, who met with the protestors. "I personally invited two representatives to come in and see how we operate but they refused. We couldn't have the whole group in because classes were in progress," she said.
On June 19 Cuccinelli's campaign released a letter sent by the candidate to Al-Shabnan questioning the contents of the school's textbooks and curriculum. According to the letter, it was instigated by what Cuccinelli read in "Washington Times news articles regarding the teaching of violent practices to students," not on his own first-hand inquires or investigation.
Referring to the school's June 13 press release regarding the latest concerns of the Commission and noting that "once again" the Commission, in the opinion of ISA, had "issued an erroneous report" about ISA and its text books, Cuccinelli found the news release "not sufficient to alleviate concerns." He stated, "Since the ISA controversy allegations (of the Commission) of teaching violence are not
directly and unequivocally repudiated in the press release, doubt remains that the allegations might indeed be true."
Cuccinelli called on Al-Shabnan and the Islamic Saudi Academy Board to: "(1) Repudiate teaching at ISA that it is permissible for Muslims to kill adulterers and converts from Islam; (2) affirm that it is not acceptable for your students to be taught lessons which if acted upon would violate US law; and (3) that such lessons are not being taught at ISA."
WHEN IT CAME to Fimian, he called for County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerry Connolly, his Democratic opponent in the 11th Congressional District contest, to "reverse his decision to renew the public lease for the ISA, which is funded by the government of Saudi Arabia." As previously stated, it was a unanimous decision of the Board to grant a one-year renewal of the lease not an individual decision by Connolly.
"I think the least board members like Connolly should do is examine the textbooks and the curriculum before they rubber stamp this lease. We must demand greater vigilance in the face of real threats to the safety of our families and our nation," Fimian said.
His news release seem to be unaware that a thorough examination of ISA's textbooks was made by an independent scholar, fluent in Arabic, following the release of the Commission's original report in October 2007. That examination was at the behest of Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerald Hyland (D). An examination has also been conducted by the U.S.State Department which has the authority to require the school's closure if it feels it is violating U.S. Law in any way.
"In the world we live in we can't be too cautious. We need to sit back and wait for the release of the Commission's full report," said Steve Waters, Fimian Campaign manager.
"If the children are being taught violence and hate that's a very, very serious issue. And the arrest of the director further compounds the school's problems. Put the kids first. They are our number one commodity and future. Patience should have been exercised in renewing the lease," Waters said.
According to Hyland that is exactly what was exercised. "I intentionally proposed that the lease be renewed for only one year to give us more flexibility in assessing the situation both in terms of ISA and the future use of the building," Hyland said.
The renewal is for one year with two one year options. "This gives us (the Board) total control. It can't go for more than three years under this new agreement. And, the lease language gives the State Department the final say on the location of the Academy," he said.
As for the renewed textbook/curriculum controversy, "They (ISA)
assured me that the new curriculum would be theirs alone. It is different from what is being taught in any other Saudi school," Hyland said.
"But, I still want to have the persons who reviewed the textbooks for me originally look at the newly redone texts. I will have my reviewer do just that," he said.
"This is the second time they have changed the textbooks to meet our and the State Department's requests. Not only are we and the Commission looking at the textbooks but also is the State Department and the FBI," Hyland said.
"However, it should also be noted that no matter what the textbook say in print there is really very little control we can exercise over what is actually said or implied in the classroom on a daily basis. That is true in most situations," he said.
More than 72 percent of the school's employees are American citizens, four are Canadians and two are Saudis. The teaching staff is composed of a variety of religious faiths and ethnic backgrounds that teach children enrolled from kindergarten through 12th grade.
FURTHER ADJUSTMENTS to textbooks and curriculum was explained by Director of Education Abdullah. "We are doing a major revision to our total curriculum that includes math, science and Islamic studies. The Islamic Studies texts have been totally redone based on suggestions from a variety of sources, including many from the outside," she said.
"We intend to have an independent panel composed of college and university academicians review the revised texts before we do the final printing for the new school year," Abdullah said.
Addressing the charges against Al-Shabnan, she noted that the State had sent representatives to the school to conduct an instructional class for faculty on their responsibility to report any suspected or reported case of child sexual molestation. "We are now very well versed in the law and its requirements," she said.
On June 23, Connolly released a letter he sent to U.S.Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, on behalf of the Board of Supervisors seeking her analysis and opinion on the ISA lease renewal. In that letter Connolly points out that the Board voted to renew the lease on May 19 following a public hearing on the subject. He also notes that the second Commission report was released June 11.
No communications or speakers expressing concern at the public hearing on the lease renewal was heard "from either the State Department or the Commission regarding the texts or curriculum," according to Connolly's letter. He requests that Rice either concur or nonconcur with the lease renewal since the State Department has the right to make the final call.