Weeks after Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy (TiZA) was forced to shut down, a group of parents whose children attended the charter school has apparently been making plans to open a private Islamic school.
That's the upshot of notes posted recently on an online message board, one of which said the new school's board would hold an Aug. 5 fundraiser at the Blaine building that served as one of TiZA's two campuses.
The messages have raised concerns for the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, which has claimed in a lawsuit against TiZA that the public school illegally promoted religion. Now attorneys for the ACLU question whether remaining assets at TiZA, which has filed for bankruptcy, could be helping to establish a private school.
"We have always supported the rights of groups to form private schools," said ACLU attorney Teresa Nelson, adding that "the one concern that we have is just to make sure that TiZA resources and basically government, state resources are not being used to help the school form."
TiZA director Asad Zaman, who has denied that the charter school promoted Islam, said this week that he knows little about what the parents are planning. "I have nothing to do with them," he said, adding that "TiZA has not paid for anybody's efforts to open a school."
A new charter school, STEP Academy, is planning to lease space at the Inver Grove Heights building where many of TiZA's students attended class, the academy's interim director said this week. Meanwhile, TiZA's former students are scattering to neighborhood, charter and private schools such as the Islamic school Al-Amal in Fridley, according to several parents.
But some parents "came together and established the new private school called Blaine Academy," according to a message sent this month by a writer identified as Fayyaz Khan on a mailing group for Twin Cities Muslims.
"Establishing and running private school is a huge task therefore we need full support from community to make it successful," Khan wrote, adding that parents envision an Islamic academy and that the school would be open for registration this week at TiZA's former Blaine location.
At the Blaine campus, where TiZA signs still lined the walls earlier this week, a woman sitting behind the counter at the front desk declined to answer a reporter's questions. Other efforts to contact parents involved in talk of a new school were unsuccessful.
The ACLU questions whether TiZA is allowing Blaine Academy organizers to use its space and equipment such as copiers, Nelson said.
Zaman declined to say whether TiZA is still paying rent at the Blaine campus, referring the question to the school's court-appointed trustee. Trustee John Hedback, who was named to the bankruptcy case this week, said Friday that he is still getting up to speed on the school's affairs and doesn't know whether TiZA paid rent this month.
TiZA was forced to shut down this summer when a new state law disqualified its legally required authorizer from continuing to oversee the school. Shortly before the law took effect, state officials denied a request that would have allowed the school to switch authorizers and stay open.
TiZA responded by filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, typically used by businesses seeking to reorganize. Even after TiZA's board decided last week not to appeal the state's decision and to proceed with dissolution, its attorney said in court that TiZA was still "considering other options."
Under pressure from the ACLU, the state and its former authorizer, TiZA last week agreed to freeze spending without court approval.
This week, TiZA converted to Chapter 7 proceedings, under which Hedback said the school's assets will be liquidated.