The Minnesota Department of Education released findings in the review of Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy (TIZA), the majority Muslim elementary school that became a target of conservative Star Tribune columnist Katherine Kersten. She claimed that TIZA was “an Islamic school, funded by Minnesota taxpayers” and that its activities violated separation of church and state concerns.
MDE conducted several visits to the school, one of which was unannounced, and found that many of the media and blog claims were inaccurate. In a press release Monday, the department said, “MDE has determined that, with regard to the areas reviewed, most of TIZA’s operations are in compliance with state and federal law.”
The report found two changes that TIZA would need to make in order to be in full compliance with separation of church and state concerns. It needs to offer bus service at the end of the school day as opposed to at the end of after-school activities (students can participate in sectarian or nonsectarian after-school programming) and it needs to hold Friday afternoon voluntary prayer sessions at a location off school grounds.
School officials say they will address the changes. “TiZA takes these concerns very seriously and, in the coming weeks, will bring together faculty, parents and outside experts to work with the Minnesota Department of Education to address the concerns,” the school said in a statement Monday. “TiZA is committed to resolving these concerns and continuing to provide a quality education for every child at our school.”
David Brauer reviewed the claims made by Kersten, and with a few exceptions, the MDE report contradicted her claims and those of her sources. For instance, Kersten’s complained of ritual foot-washing, an activity that was approved by MDE in 2004. Statements by Kersten’s source, a Republican and education activist who also served as a substitute teacher and asserted that students were forced to pray, are contradicted by the MDE report.
Kersten’s overblown criticism of the school resulted in hate-tinged blog posts and message board comments, and incited harassing phone calls and e-mails at the school, which in turn required an increased police patrol in the area, caused one member of the legislature to suggest Kersten’s resignation, and prompted the creation of a petition for her removal that was signed by a Pulitzer Prize winner.
In reporting on the findings by MDE, a KSTP camera crew visited the school Monday morning after repeated requests for comment went unreturned. The crew were told by police that the school’s officials were “unhappy” that the camera crew was there, and officials forcibly took the camera from the camera crew and waited for police to arrive. Police are considering charges of assault against school officials and trespassing against the camera crew as they investigate the incident.