Yesterday the beleaguered Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy, or TiZA, filed suit in U.S. District Court against the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Education (DOE) and Islamic Relief USA. The charter school charges the state and the California nonprofit are improperly preventing the school from finding a new authorizer, which will force it to shut down July 1.
A similar suit was rejected last month by a state court judge in Ramsey County. And the school is a defendant in a lawsuit set for trial this fall filed by the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which claims it promotes religion.
Most of the mostly low-income minority children TiZA serves on campuses in Blaine and Inver Grove Heights come from Muslim immigrant families. The school posts outstanding test scores but has drawn fire for its Islamic identity.
The complaint [PDF] the school filed in yesterday's suit is complicated, and worthy of a thorough analysis; watch for it in this space soon. Suffice to say, it has the potential to ignite a handful of controversies simmering within the charter-school community.
Part of a series of reforms to charter-school oversight, a state law going into effect June 30 will bar out-of-state charter authorizers.
Schools that need to find new authorizers have until that date to find new ones, a task that has been rendered more difficult for some by the fact that more stringent state requirements of authorizers has shrunk the number approved to sponsor schools in Minnesota.
Again, the underlying public policy issues are complicated indeed, but few of the schools that are struggling to find new overseers are anywhere near as successful academically as TiZA, and even fewer have been the subject of as many headlines.
The Department of Education rejected nonprofit Novation Education Opportunities' application to sponsor the school, saying that the group had not provided enough explanation for how it planned to monitor the school and saying it believed Novation had a conflict of interest. One of the first authorizers to win state approval under the newer, tougher standards, Novation has submitted a second application seeking to clarify its position. It's anybody's guess whether the state employees reviewing that application will be on the job long enough to do so.
Charlene Briner, communications director for the Department of Education, said of TiZA's suit against DOE, "We are reviewing the filings and evaluating what our response will be." She also noted that "the pending litigation is not related in any way to the separate process the Department is undertaking to review the authorizor transfer request that Novation has resubmitted."
TiZA is suing its current sponsor, Islamic Relief, for essentially deciding to terminate the school's charter instead of releasing it to find a new authorizer.
It's all ground that hasn't been trodden, and the implications for other unpopular or controversial schools are huge.
One reason: It's possible that a successful but controversial school could close not because the controversies were resolved but because a clock ran out.