United States District Court Judge Donovan Frank approved a partial settlement of ACLU-MN's lawsuit against Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy (TiZA), the Minnesota Department of Education, Islamic Relief USA (the school's sponsor), and various school officials.
The ACLU of Minnesota commenced this landmark lawsuit in 2009 to end the use of public funds to promote religion at TiZA. The academy is now closed because it could not secure an authorizer to replace its original sponsor, Islamic Relief USA. An authorizer is required in Minnesota for all public charter schools.
The settlement requires every charter school in Minnesota to file an annual report confirming and disclosing any religious entanglement at these state-supported institutions. False reporting on these disclosure forms can be prosecuted under Minnesota criminal statutes.
Additionally, Judge Frank authorized the release of a fact statement compiled by the ACLU of Minnesota, the Commissioner, and Islamic Relief USA. These facts are backed by indisputed evidence agreed upon by all three parties. The fact statement outlines a number of the violations perpetrated by TiZA.
Here are a few highlights from the fact statement:
- TiZA illegally transferred money to its religious landlords (stipulated fact # 68)
- TiZA was marketed to the Muslim community as a school that would follow Islamic law (stipulated facts #: 8, 9, 18, 20, 22, 27, 45, 48, 66, 70, 135)
- TiZA and its religious landlords are effectively controlled by the same small group of people (stipulated facts # 1 - 7, 11, 33, 52, 53, 56, 63, 166 - 172)
- TiZA promoted Islam through its Arabic curriculum and its connection to the after school religious program (stipulated facts #84, 107, 108, 122 - 124, 126, 127, 163, 164)
- TiZA used taxpayer funds in excess of a million dollars to renovate buildings to the benefit of their religious landlords (stipulated facts # 28, 67, 91 - 95)
"The Court's decision and our settlement with the Department of Education are bittersweet. We remain sad that TiZA's administrators and supporters hunkered down for years rather than changing their practices to conform to the Constitution and Minnesota law," stated Charles Samuelson, Executive Director of the ACLU of Minnesota. "Sadly, this case highlights the problems that can arise from the lack of transparency in public charter school laws."
"We are pleased with the court order because we have long believed that TiZA misused the court's protective order to maintain the secrecy of documents that the public has a right to see, because they show how TIZA was using public funds," added cooperating attorney, Peter Lancaster.
Cooperating attorneys for the case include: Peter Lancaster, Katie C. Pfeifer, Christopher Amundsen, Ivan Ludmer, Mark Wagner, Dustin Adams, Shari Aberle, and Monica Clark from Dorsey & Whitney LLP.