metro-area charter school embroiled in a two-year legal standoff with the American Civil Liberties Union in turn sued two former fellow defendants Thursday.
As it fights ACLU charges it promotes religion, the Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy took action against its overseer and the state Department of Education over a stalemate that threatens to leave it without an overseer come June. Charters need a state-approved overseer to operate; without one, TiZA would have to close.
The overseer, the nonprofit Islamic Relief-USA, has said new charter legislation and a settlement with the ACLU make it impossible to continue authorizing the school past June. Meanwhile, another nonprofit's application to oversee TiZA has stalled.
TiZA is asking Ramsey County District Court to compel the state to process the application - or else compel Islamic Relief to honor a contract with the school that expires in June 2012.
"We have an authorizer who wants to take us, but we're caught in some bureaucratic maze, and we need to get out," said Asad Zaman, the executive director of TiZA, which serves about 550 students on campuses in Inver Grove Heights and Blaine.
The school filed its court complaint electronically and sent a press statement about 6 p.m. Thursday. Charlene Briner, a spokeswoman for the Education Department, and an attorney for Islamic Relief both said they could not comment on the complaint until reviewing it.
In 2009, the ACLU of Minnesota sued TiZA in federal court, charging the school promotes religion in violation of the Constitution. It also sued Islamic Relief and the state over alleged oversight failings but has since settled with both parties.
Both co-defendants are now demanding TiZA cover their legal expenses after a judge deemed the school liable for those costs.
Minnesota charter school legislation going into effect this summer will no longer allow out-of-state groups to serve as authorizers. As part of its settlement with the ACLU, the Washington, D.C.-based Islamic Relief agreed not to challenge the new charter legislation or try to incorporate in Minnesota.
A new would-be authorizer, the nonprofit Novation Education Opportunities, has stepped forward. But in its application to the department, Novation had to include a letter from Islamic Relief signing off on the change.
Back in October, TiZA and a Minnesota representative for Islamic Relief signed such a letter, which says the school and the authorizer will end their commitment to each other - as soon as TiZA lines up a new overseer.
But Islamic Relief says it never approved the signing of that letter. It wants a new letter to read that the two sides will end their commitment to each other by June 30.
Meanwhile, the state Education Department has said that until it gets a valid letter, it cannot process Novation's application.
TiZA, which was founded in 2003, says signing the end-of-contract letter with Islamic Relief without a new authorizer secured is too risky. If Novation's application doesn't go through in time, TiZA lead counsel Shamus O'Meara said, "that would be tantamount to a death sentence for the school."
TiZA insists Novation's application is complete and, in its court complaint, charges the Education Department and Islamic Relief with obstructing the change of overseer.
TiZA has also challenged the settlement between the ACLU and Islamic Relief as part of federal court proceedings. The judge has approved that settlement but has not officially ruled on the one reached between the ACLU and the Education Department.