An Islamic school that has drawn fire for some of its teaching materials may soon get the green light to expand its Fairfax Station campus.
Saying that the commission's only duty is to evaluate the school's compliance with land use laws, the Fairfax County Planning Commission recommended approval of a new building for the Islamic Saudi Academy last week. It will now go before the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors for approval.
"From the outset, this has been an application which, unfortunately, has been beset with distractions that focused on issues that are not germane to our public hearing process," Chairman Pete Murphy (Springfield) said. "The Planning Commission's job is to make a land use decision."
The Saudi government owns about 35 acres of land off of Pope's Head Road, a site that has housed a private school for about 45 years. The school is seeking approval to build a larger building on the property and enroll up to 500 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, as well as add features like sports fields.
In addition to the concerns about the school's teachings, in a March public hearing nearby residents said they are worried about additional traffic and noise from the school. Murphy said he spent a lot of time reviewing those concerns and believes that the 39 conditions attached to the rezoning will sufficiently prevent noise, traffic and environmental problems.
The Islamic Saudi Academy first drew national media attention several years ago when the Commission on International Religious Freedom first reviewed some of its textbook materials, calling them "intolerant" and "shocking." The school has since said it has changed the textbooks.
U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-10th) has written seven letters to the U.S. State Department, unsuccessfully attempting to get officials there to review the materials.
"Textbooks used in Saudi Arabia are very anti-Semitic, anti-Christian and pretty hate-filled," Wolf said in a previous Times article. "We're just asking that there be an independent evaluation by someone that's not paid by the Saudi Academy."
During the Planning Commission review process for the school's expansion, some said the textbook issue should be of concern to the planners as well.