Some Coppell residents are voicing their opposition to the opening of a charter school that plans to offer Arabic and French classes.
Some residents of the neighborhood near the school say that they're concerned that if the Manara Academy opens in August in the former Christ Our Savior Lutheran school building it will cause traffic and safety issues.
The school would be one of the few in the state offering Arabic classes, and it also would offer expeditionary learning and a hands-on approach.
School leaders are leasing the building along Heartz Road from the church, which plans to continue to hold services in the building.
Church leaders say they operated a school with more than 400 students in the building several years ago and don't understand why there's a concern about traffic now.
"The idea of this being a new thing for the neighborhood to have a school there is surprising to me," said Larry Best, the church's congregation president. "The property was designed primarily for an elementary school."
"If the neighbors would get to know these people they wouldn't be so nervous," he added.
The church already has a permit to run a school at the property, but city officials decided to put the new school through the rezoning process and revise the permit.
In order for the school to open in August, Manara must have a special use permit approved by Coppell's Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council and then obtain a certificate of occupancy.
City staff recommended that the permit be approved at the commission's last meeting April 16, but after neighbors voiced their opposition the commission tabled it until its Thursday meeting. City officials are evaluating a traffic impact analysis of the area before making further recommendations and taking action.
Neighbors became upset when they were told about 22 of 326 students who applied to the school are from Coppell. At that meeting city officials said 19 property owners of 53 who live within 200 feet of the school reported that they objected to the school.
"This is not a neighborhood-based school – it's different from the concept people bought into," said Jeff Powell, who lives down the road. "These are not people from the community. It's an unknown variable."
Though leaders from the Islamic Center of Irving are promoting the school and some are transferring their children from that mosque's private school into the new charter school, leaders say the school is not just targeting Muslim students. They have been promoting the school's expeditionary curriculum and hands-on focus. The school is modeled after a Georgia charter school, Amana Academy, which has received national attention for its unique approach.
According to Texas Education Agency officials, the school is approved to accept students from several area school districts, including Irving, Carrollton-Farmers Branch, Dallas and Coppell. State officials said the competition for new charter schools was intense this year, and only eight of 39 applicants were approved.
Manara officials planned to find a building in Irving, and leaders there including Mayor Herbert Gears and North Lake College President Herlinda Martinez Glasscock had written letters of support to TEA supporting the school's approval.
"We just happened to find the perfect building" in Coppell, said Michelle Alkhatib, the school board's secretary.
She said school officials hope to purchase the building eventually.
But the school is making some neighbors uncomfortable. Fran Richardson, a former teacher who has lived in Coppell for 26 years, said she'd rather have the school building turned into a park. She does not want students coming in from outside the city.
"I believe that charter schools are cropping up everywhere and taking taxpayers' money," she said. "I'm going to be very interested if it becomes a conflict between church and state. If they want to have a private Islamic school, that's fine. As long as I'm not supporting it."
School officials have repeated that they are a publicly funded school and that they do not have a religious focus.
The school's principal, Amaris Obregón, said she is optimistic about winning over the community.
"I really anticipate us being able to work very well with the city as well as residents," she said. "We certainly want to be good community members."