ST. PAUL, Minn. — A Minnesota charter school that caters to Muslim students is using taxpayer money to illegally promote religion in violation of the First Amendment, the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota alleged in a lawsuit filed yesterday.
The ACLU names Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy, or TiZA, the Minnesota Department of Education and Education Commissioner Alice Seagren, the school's sponsor, and several school leaders in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court.
The lawsuit claims the school's sites in Blaine and Inver Grove Heights are leased from Muslim organizations that have benefited from the arrangements.
The lawsuit also alleges that TiZA has violated the First Amendment by preferring the Muslim religion over others. For example, the school allows prayer sessions during school hours, prefers Muslim dietary practices by serving certain foods and endorses Muslim clothing rules, according to the lawsuit.
The ACLU says state education officials have allowed the school to continue the alleged illegal activity and have failed to properly oversee the school's operations.
After concerns surfaced last year about TiZA, the Minnesota Department of Education launched an investigation, which eventually found the school was mostly in compliance with state and federal law. The school was told to take corrective actions regarding Friday prayer services at the school and ordered to make bus rides home available right after school ends, instead of after a voluntary after-school religious program.
Chas Anderson, deputy education commissioner, said in a written statement that the department was reviewing the ACLU lawsuit and would continue to monitor operations at TiZA. He also said the department was drafting legislation to address some of the concerns.
"The Minnesota Department of Education takes very seriously the requirement under state law that Minnesota charter schools remain nonsectarian and expects charter schools to comply with the law," Anderson said.
The school said in a written statement that though officials hadn't yet seen the ACLU's complaint, they believed the lawsuit was without merit.
"Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy (TiZA) is an approved charter school fully in compliance with state and federal law. Like all 143 charter schools in Minnesota, TiZA is a public school that is nonsectarian, nondiscriminatory and tuition free," the statement read.
Among other things, the lawsuit seeks a judgment forcing TiZA to make changes to come in compliance with state and federal laws.