A nonprofit group battling the state for the right to sponsor a small charter school will have to take its claims to a different court, a Ramsey County District Court judge has ruled.
Minnesota Education Trust (MET), a group with ties to another charter school accused of promoting Islam, sought to oversee Eci' Nompa Woonspe,' a school in Morton, Minn., that focused on American Indian culture.
MET has submitted applications to sponsor several charter schools, none of which has been approved by the state Department of Education. Last month, state Education Commissioner Alice Seagren denied the group's proposal to oversee the Morton school, saying MET does not meet the requirements of a new state law that bars religious groups from sponsoring charter schools.
MET took the fight to Ramsey County District Court, but that court does not have jurisdiction, Judge Gregg Johnson wrote in a Sept. 3 ruling. Instead, the group may challenge the Education Department's decision in the Minnesota Court of Appeals, he said.
MET has not yet decided whether to appeal, but will do so by early October, group attorney Jack Perry said Tuesday.
For lack of a sponsor, Eci' Nompa Woonspe' is now in the process of closing, an attorney for the school said Tuesday. The school's former sponsor, the Redwood Area School District, cut ties because district leaders don't believe they can provide proper oversight, Redwood superintendent Rick Ellingworth has said. The school had a few dozen students last year, and those children can enroll at other public schools.
In a letter to MET last month, Seagren said the group has a "sectarian nature and mission" and laid out a list of "entanglements" that it has with the Muslim American Society of Minnesota and Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy (TiZA). TiZA, a charter school with campuses in Inver Grove Heights and Blaine, faces a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, which claims the public school endorses religion in violation of the Constitution.
Seagren also voiced concerns with the poor test results posted by students at the Morton school and noted that MET has never sponsored a charter school.
MET's articles of incorporation, which were amended in May, list one of the group's purposes as "religious." But the group has scrubbed sectarian language from its mission since learning that religious links could be a problem, and that reference was left in "inadvertently," group spokesman Blois Olson has said.
In court documents, MET's attorneys did not address the question of whether the group is sectarian. Instead, they argued that MET is exempt from the ban on sectarian sponsors until at least 2011 because the group was already in the application process when the new legislation took effect.