Parents of former students at the now-shuttered Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy are looking to launch a private elementary school out of its Blaine campus.
The former charter closed its schools in Inver Grove Heights and Blaine last month after it found itself without the state-approved sponsor it needs to operate.
TiZA is still embroiled in both a contentious bankruptcy case and a 2-year-old lawsuit over American Civil Liberties Union charges that the public school promoted religion. TiZA maintains it merely accommodated its Muslim students, as required by law.
The parents announced plans for a new private Islamic school on an online message board last week and took registrations at the Blaine facility Monday. The school, called Blaine Academy, would be the second private Islamic school in Minnesota.
Asad Zaman, TiZA's executive director, said he knows very little about the parents' plans.
"I, of course, am not involved in any school other than TiZA, and the shutdown of this is taking my full time," he said.
The ACLU, the state and the school's former sponsor - potentially TiZA's biggest creditors - have voiced concern that TiZA could funnel leftover public dollars and other resources to a private school. News of the planned academy intensifies those concerns, ACLU attorney Teresa Nelson said.weighing options to stay open; even after the TiZA board voted to dissolve the academy last week, its bankruptcy attorney said leaders had not lost all hope of having a school.
The trio grew alarmed last month when TiZA asked the bankruptcy court for permission to continue paying its teachers and staff so it could keep them on board while
On a Twin Cities Muslims message board last week, former parent Fayyaz Khan announced plans for the new school and a fundraiser on TiZA's former Blaine campus last Friday.
"Establishing and running a private school is a huge task; therefore, we need full support from the community to make it successful," wrote Khan, who could not be reached Monday.
At the school, where TiZA brochures still greet visitors at the main desk, parent Iman Ibrahim was taking registrations Monday.
"We came together as parents to start a new school," she said.
She said she and the other parents behind the new school are busy with the launch, and she deferred on answering additional questions until later in the week.
Audrey Zahra Williams, principal of the 17-year-old Al-Amal School in Fridley, said she met last month with several TiZA parents looking for advice on running a private school. As a private school, Al-Amal, which serves about 400 students in preschool through 12th grade, relies on tuition and fundraising rather than taxpayer dollars.
"They have a committed group of families in Blaine who really would like to stay together," Williams said of the former TiZA parents.
The Twin Cities Muslim community is large enough to fill two schools with students and support them through private contributions, she said.
"We welcome the competition," Williams said. "Competition makes you a better school."
This summer, Al-Amal enrolled a number of former TiZA students who performed well on the Fridley school's entrance exam, Williams said.
Nelson, the ACLU attorney, said the new school at TiZA's former Blaine facility raises questions: Is TiZA still paying rent for the building? Is the academy's equipment - from computers to copiers - used for registrations to the new private school?
"Because it's difficult to know what's going on, it's a concern," Nelson said.
A representative for Blaine Holding, which leases the campus, could not be reached Monday.
Timothy Obitts, an attorney for TiZA's former overseer Islamic Relief, said that while he shares some of Nelson's concerns, he also welcomes the parents' initiative. He said TiZA's involved parents explained the academic success of the former charter.
At the insistence of the ACLU, the state and Islamic Relief, TiZA agreed last week to freeze all spending. Monday, TiZA filed to switch from Chapter 11 bankruptcy - which generally lets organizations restructure and stay in business - to Chapter 7 bankruptcy, in which they wind down their operations.
"I myself heard some things, but I am not fully aware of whatever is going on," Zaman said about the TiZA parents' effort.
He stressed he is not in any way involved with that new venture, saying he would be looking for a job after helping wind down TiZA's affairs.