We've written a lot about the K-8 Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy (TIZA) charter school in a suburb of the Twin Cities. One might say that TIZA is an Islamic school in all but name, except that the name is of course Islamic. Tarek ibn Ziyad was the Muslim conqueror of Spain. As for the rest of the school, all or almost all of its students are Muslim, its principal is an imam, its sponsor is Islamic Relief-USA, and it sits in a building owned by, and shared with, the Muslim American Society of Minnesota as well as its Al-Aman Mosque.
TIZA's calendar and days are set up to accommodate Muslim students. School breaks for prayers at 1:00 in the carpeted prayer area in the middle of the school. TIZA's cafeteria is halal. Arabic as a second language is mandatory.
According to a document filed by TIZA with the Minnesota Department of Education, it provides after-school (religious) instruction "conducted by various non-profit organizations" that is the main reason given by 77 percent of parents for sending their children to TIZA. The after-school instruction is overwhelmingly the primary reason given by parents for sending their children to TIZA.
As Katherine Kersten reported in her now discontinued Star Tribune column, after-school religious instruction is provided by the Muslim American Society of Minnesota. School buses wait outside the school for the students to complete their after-school religious instruction at the end of the day. The Muslim American Society of Minnesota is perhaps best known as the proponent of the fatwa prohibiting Muslim taxi drivers from transporting travelers carrying alcohol from the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
TIZA is representative of the use Muslim activists have made of Minnesota's charter school movement. Rimer had her eyes averted from this aspect of the story when she visited Minneapolis to report on this "ethnic" variation of Minnesota's charter school movement. On Saturday the Times published "Immigrants see charter schools as a haven" by Sara Rimer. If you are aware of the phenomenon of which TIZA is representative, you might understand what Rimer is describing in this gauzy passage:
Charter schools, which are publicly financed but independently run, were conceived as a way to improve academic performance. But for immigrant families, they have also become havens where their children are shielded from the American youth culture that pervades large district schools.
The curriculum at the Twin Cities International Elementary School, and at its partner middle school and high school, is similar to that of other public schools with high academic goals. But at Twin Cities International the girls say they can freely wear head scarves without being teased, the lunchroom serves food that meets the dietary requirements of Muslims, and in every classroom there are East African teaching assistants who understand the needs of students who may have spent years in refugee camps. Twin Cities International students are from Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Sudan, with a small population from the Middle East.
Amid the wave of immigration that has been reshaping Minnesota for more than three decades, the International schools are among 30 of the state's 138 charter schools that are focused mostly on students from specific immigrant or ethnic groups....
One has to turn to the International Elementary School's Web site to learn that "students also attend Arabic classes" at the school. Why would a publicly supported charter school catering to East African immigrants include Arabic as in its curriculum? The question is missing from Rimer's story, but clues to the answer are present -- and on the school's Web site, describing its environment with the shibboleth "culturally sensitive" -- although the answer is seen through a glass darkly.
Muslim activists have found a workable seam in the purported separation of church and state in Minnesota. One does not need to engage in much speculation to foresee the day when Minnesota's burgeoning Muslim population will be educated in separate charter schools like the Twin Cities International Elementary School at taxpayers' expense.
It's an interesting and important story story, raising a a prospect that seems to excite the New York Times. But it is a prospect about which Times readers might have second thoughts if they were properly informed of it.
UPDATE: For another example of the same phenomenon in the Twin Cities, see the Web site for Ubah Medical Academy. Ubah Medical Academy is a charter high school in suburban Minneapolis that caters to East African immigrants ("our program is inclusively designed to meet the unique needs international students and their families have in a culturally sensitive environment").