The American flag is supposed to fly outside every public school in the state of Minnesota. But that's not the case at an Islamic charter school, funded by tax dollars. Now the Minnesota Department of Education is getting involved, according to published reports. And they may launch an investigation.
The Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy is accused of promoting Islam. A substitute teacher told local news reporters she was stunned at what was going on under the guise of public education. She told the Star-Tribune the school had washing rituals, prayers and a room where you had to take off your shoes.
Here are 20 questions sent in several e-mails by Katherine Kersten to Asad Zaman, executive director of Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy in Inver Grove Heights. Following each question is his answer.
1. You have stated that the Minnesota Department of Education "inspects TIZA regularly" to "ensure ... that we are not a religious school." In addition, a March 2007 article in Minnesota Monthly includes the following paragraph:
"Zaman takes pains to point out that his school is not a religious institution. That has been confirmed many times, he says -- state education officials inspected the academy 11 times during its first year. 'They really wanted to make sure,' Zaman says, smiling."
Please list dates of inspections that focused on ensuring that TIZA is not a religious school.
In what form were findings regarding these inspections documented to you? Please identify and quote all such findings.
Please list the dates of the inspections referred to in the Minnesota Monthly article.
A. Different divisions of the MDE have inspected TIZA numerous times and we have not been informed of any violations of encouraging or supporting religious activity. A complete record of dates & findings should be available from the MDE.
2. Do teachers take students in any grades to the bathroom to perform ablutions for afternoon prayers? Do teachers then take students in any grades to the prayer space?
A. MN Law requires public schools to supervise students at all times during the school day, including use of restrooms and periods where students exercise their constitutional right to pray. TIZA complies with this law.
3. Are students designated to lead prayer? Is some form of rotation used to designate prayer leaders? Who leads prayer among students in grades K-1? What percentage of students participates in prayer?
A. Since prayer is not mandated by TIZA, the school does not designate prayer leaders, nor do we monitor or keep statistics of students (including KG & 1st grade) who might pray.
4. Where are teachers during prayer time? Do they continue to observe students in any grade during prayer?
A. MN Law requires public schools to supervise students at all times during the school day, including periods where students exercise their constitutional right to pray. TIZA complies with this law. Supervision to maintain student safety is very different from teacher lead and encouragement of prayer.
5. Where and when do Muslim teachers perform Dhuhr prayers?
A. Staff of all religions are free to pray in the staff lounge, their offices and other private areas during their break time.
6. According to the ACLU of Minnesota, TIZA's web site recently included a request for volunteers to assist with "Friday prayers." Please describe the service these volunteers perform or performed.
A. That particular statement was placed with the intent to ensure that no TIZA staff members were involved in organizing the Friday prayers. Once the ACLU brought to our attention that this may have represented an appearance of impropriety, we immediately removed it although we have not been informed that there has been any legal violation of the law and we believe that we are not in any legal violation of the law.
7. On Friday afternoons, does an all-school assembly including prayer take place at the school? At what time does this typically occur? What percentage of students generally participates in this prayer service?
A. TIZA does NOT typically organize school assemblies on Friday. Students are released on Friday afternoons to either join a parent-led service or for study hall. Many students utilize both options, but we do not maintain such statistics.
8. Who is the gentleman who dresses in white and sometimes leads or participates in prayer at the assembly?
A. Many people dress in white. We do not track the garment colors of staff or visitors.
Minnesota Law requires public schools to supervise students at all times during the school day, including use of restrooms and periods where students exercise their constitutional right to pray. Haven't courts told Christian children they can't pray in public school? Now Muslim children have a constitutional right to pray at school.
A school official told a local television station that he didn't know how to work the flag pole. Why isn't the state enforcing state law on this Muslim school?