The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota expects to recoup little of the millions spent suing the Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy despite agreeing to a $1.4 million settlement of the now-defunct school's bankruptcy case.
The ACLU continues to pursue a 2009 civil lawsuit against the school's leader Asad Zaman for using taxpayer money to teach religion.
The ACLU agreed last week to a $1.4 million settlement for attorneys' fees in the bankruptcy case that grew out of an ongoing lawsuit claiming the charter schools in Inver Grove Heights and Blaine taught Islam in the classroom with taxpayer money. The charter school had high test scores and a waiting list before legal costs and other pressure forced it to close last summer.
The ACLU had sought nearly $2.4 million and Chuck Samuelson, attorney for the Minnesota chapter, said he doesn't expect the ACLU or its attorneys to come anywhere near recouping the $3 million spent on the case so far.
"First of all, there isn't going to be any money," said Samuelson, who noted he would "fall down in a faint if it comes anywhere close" to the $1.4 million agreement."
Zaman would not comment about the case except to say he feels the ACLU is being "very unreasonable." Shamus O'Meara, TiZA attorney was not immediately available for comment.
TiZA has a long list of creditors with claims against the schools, many of which will likely receive a fraction of what they are owed, Samuelson said.
"They're not broke, that's the thing," he said of TiZA. "This is a good headline, but if you drop down and look at the footnotes, we are talking about way less money."
More importantly to the ACLU is the continued pursuit of claims Zaman used taxpayer dollars to finance the teaching of religion, directly in violation of the establishment clause that separates church and state. The ACLU's lawsuit included multiple claims alleging TiZA's leaders, its landlord and the Muslim American Society of Minnesota had "blurred" lines of control resulting in millions of taxpayer dollars going to religious groups.
Samuelson has said repeatedly his group wants a "bright line" decision when it comes to whether the school taught Islam with taxpayer money. "We feel there is still potential for that and that is why we are pursuing it," he said.
Such a decision would set future precedent for charter schools, he said.
"Charter schools are a great experiment," Samuelson said. "What we are concerned about is the charter school schemata is relaxing all the rules. We said you can do that, but you can't relax the constitution."