The Fairfax County Planning Commission has given its blessing to a proposed expansion of the Islamic Saudi Academy, despite objections by a disjointed chorus of neighbors and foes of the Saudi-funded private school.
The decision Thursday night bolsters the case of the academy as it seeks to increase capacity at its Popes Head Road campus in Fairfax, one of two facilities it runs in Fairfax County. County supervisors must approve the expansion, which could allow about 200 new students on the 34-acre site.
The plan's detractors fell into two camps. Most were neighbors worried about added traffic, auto accidents and other harm to the surrounding communities, while the school's long time critics used the opportunity to evoke a laundry list of controversies surrounding the academy and its teachings.
Planning Commission Chairman Peter Murphy, during the panel's Thursday night meeting, waved off the latter set of complaints as "distractions."
"The planning commission's job is to make a land-use decision," he said. "When I make a motion and when the Planning Commission votes, we will be making a land-use recommendation to the Board of Supervisors."
The commission received piles of e-mails and letters on the topic in the months leading up to the decision, both urging approval and rejection. Some pointed to a 2007 report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom suggesting the school's texts contained passages promoting violence and intolerance of non-Muslims.
Parents of the school's students wrote to call the accusations bogus.
Other past controversies have bedeviled the Islamic Saudi Academy. Its 1999 valedictorian, Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, was convicted in 2005 as part of an al Qaeda plot to kill President George W. Bush. The school's director general, Abdalla Al-Shabnan, was arrested in 2008 for improperly handling abuse allegations of a young student. He later plead guilty for failing to report child abuse.