TiZA, Islamic-themed charter school, closes for good

TiZA's 500-some students are moving on to other schools.
TiZA's 500-some students are moving on to other schools.

Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy, the controversial charter school that ran afoul of the Minnesota Education Department and a new state law, is closing its doors permanently.

TiZA's board voted Tuesday not to appeal the Education Department's decision to deny the school's reapplication, according to the Star Tribune. The vote effectively ends TiZA's struggle to stay open, a process that had endured numerous controversies in recent years.

A 2009 lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, arguing that TiZA's Islamic influence had violated the separation of church and state, is still ongoing. The ACLU has spent $3 million prosecuting the case, and if successful could force TiZA to pick up the tab on its attorneys' fees.

TiZA's probably not paying its bills any time soon: The ACLU lawsuit, which hasn't gone to trial, is currently frozen in place after the school filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last month.

TiZA's sudden termination will probably cancel the ACLU's church-state First Amendment lawsuit. TiZA, which had campuses in Blaine and Inver Grove Heights, first came up for inspection after conservative Star Tribune columnist Katherine Kersten raised questions about its Islamic focus.

The new law that led to its closure, which went into effect in July, disqualifies out-of-state authorizers for charter schools. TiZA had been authorized by Islamic Relief, a development organization based in Washington, D.C.

TiZA's board voted not to appeal the Education Department's decision on the advice of its attorneys. One of those attorneys, Shamus O'Meara told the Star Tribune that the people involved in the school had moved on.

"I think it's fairly obvious that TiZA is recognizing that it has been forced to involuntarily cease operations," O'Meara said. "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."

But even if teachers and students are done with TiZA, administrators might still have to answer tough questions. The ACLU, the state education comissioner and Islamic Relief are listed as creditors in TiZA's bankruptcy case, and recently argued that the school's shady financial dealings should bring it up for close scrutiny as it closes out its accounts.

"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," attorneys for the creditors 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."


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