A metro-area charter school battered by years of controversy over claims that it promoted religion has decided not to appeal a state decision that forced its closure earlier this summer.
The board of Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy (TiZA) voted Tuesday evening not to ask the Minnesota Court of Appeals to reverse the state Education Department's denial of an application that would have allowed it to stay open.
"I think it's fairly obvious that TiZA is recognizing that it has been forced to involuntarily cease operations," Shamus O'Meara, an attorney for the school, said after the vote. "Its students are transferred into other schools. The staff has found employment with other schools. Prospects to have an operating school this fall or at any time in the future are bleak."
In Tuesday's resolution, which the board passed on the advice of its attorneys, it also said that TiZA will proceed with orderly closure and dissolution under a bankruptcy petition that court documents filed by the school have previously described as an attempt to reorganize.
The state had issued closure instructions to TiZA shortly before a new law took effect on July 1 disqualifying the school's former authorizer. Summer classes ended abruptly and the school's director advised families to seek new schools -- but TiZA also filed a bankruptcy petition under Chapter 11, which businesses typically use when they want to restructure rather than liquidate.
TiZA, which had campuses in Inver Grove Heights and Blaine, served about 540 students, most of whom were Muslim.
O'Meara said that Tuesday's vote signals the school's attempt to effect an "orderly winding-down" of operations. He added that the decision is likely to "dramatically" affect a longstanding lawsuit brought against TiZA by the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, which claims the public school has violated the Constitution by promoting religion. Since the school no longer exists, "We would expect that the ACLU would recognize the obvious and allow the parties to move on with their lives," he said.
The board's vote decreases the likelihood that the First Amendment dispute will go to trial, said Peter Lancaster, an attorney for the ACLU.
"I think it's the right decision, and I also hope that the school will agree to have a trustee to help with the orderly dissolution," he said.
The ACLU, state education commissioner and the school's former authorizer, Islamic Relief USA -- all three of which are creditors in the bankruptcy case -- have already called for the appointment of a trustee to oversee the school's remaining assets, partly because of what they have called "fraud and dishonesty by TiZA."
In a recent court filing, attorneys for the trio of creditors described the school's bankruptcy motions as "a transparent effort to benefit those in control of [TiZA] and its employees at the expense of the other creditors."
"TiZA has operated the school in a manner that has had the effect of transferring millions of dollars of public money to related Islamic organizations," they wrote. "Its history creates concern that it is seeking bankruptcy relief to continue that pattern, allowing TiZA to further dissipate its assets to related Islamic entities and individual Muslim participants in school operations."
The ACLU, state and Islamic Relief have also asked a bankruptcy judge to lift an automatic stay on litigation that kicked in when TiZA filed for bankruptcy, freezing the ACLU lawsuit.
The education commissioner and Islamic Relief were both named as co-defendants in that suit, although the ACLU has since settled with Islamic Relief and reached a tentative deal with the commissioner.
In that suit, the state and Islamic Relief are seeking a combined total of more than $1.7 million in legal costs from the school.
The ACLU says it could be entitled to reimbursement of attorneys' fees that currently exceed $3 million if it proves that the school violated the Constitution, although whether the organization will ever actually see any of that money is "hard to say," Lancaster said Tuesday.