The logo for the publicly funded Tarek ibn Ziyad school in Minnesota

Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy, a publicly funded Minnesota charter school, twice has been ordered by a federal district court to stop intimidating witnesses while fighting an ACLU lawsuit alleging violations of the constitutional prohibition against government endorsement of religion.

“The school’s tactics have gone far beyond the usual rough-and-tumble of lawyers in our adversary system,” wrote Minneapolis Star-Tribune columnist Katherine Kersten. “Its chief tool has been attempted intimidation of all who would draw back the curtain on its secrets.”

Minnesota’s federal district court has twice ordered the school, which has campuses in the Minneapolis suburbs of Inver Grove Heights and Blaine, to stop intimidating witnesses in the case.

Most recently, on Oct. 1, 2010, Judge Donovan Frank instructed the school not to enforce a “secrecy clause” in the employee handbook that threatened legal action if employees testified about school operations.

TiZA uses the clause ” … as a sledgehammer to keep former employees quiet about what they saw at the school,” according to the ACLU.

In Jan. 2010, the court forbade any witness intimidation by either party after a former TiZA parent and a former TiZA staff member complained the school threatened them with violence.

As previously reported by WND,  the former staff member testified in an affidavit that TiZA executive director Asad Zaman told her, “We could just kill you, yeah tell your husband we’ll do his job for him.” In his own affidavit, Zaman said he didn’t remember making the statement.

On another front, three organizations not named in the lawsuit filed a motion in Sept. 2010 to remove Dorsey and Whitney, the law firm representing the ACLU, from the case. The Muslim American Society of Minnesota, the MAS-MN Property Holding Corporation and the Minnesota Education Trust asserted “Dorsey personnel had previously communicated with Zaman about entities involved in the litigation,” according to Kersten.

TiZA spokesman Blois Olsen declined to comment on the case, but he did send the following statement by the academy:

“As we have for the entire duration of this case, we find it offensive and sad that the MN ACLU would attack one of the leading school’s [sic] in the country under false allegations. Furthermore we are shocked and dismayed that the ACLU would not have their own legal paperwork filed to be a legal entity in the state of Minnesota. It is the type of hypocrisy we have found throughout this case.

“Finally, we categorically deny all the claims of the ACLU and the MN Dept. of Education filings.

“Instead of wasting our time, energy and taxpayer dollars on a lawsuit rooted in the politics of the previous administration, we hope that the new administration and the ACLU begin to strongly consider the consequences to Minnesota’s children. Most critically those children of color who we must close the academic gap to help.

“The students, teachers and parents of TiZA have worked tirelessly to make TiZA an award-winning school. We will remain laser-focused on student achievement.”

The Minnesota ACLU filed suit against TiZA in January, 2009, alleging,
“the operation and public funding of the Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy (“TIZA”) is
unconstitutional as a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the
U.S. Constitution … and that the leasing of space by Muslim organizations to TIZA and the resulting transfer of state funds intended for the support of charter schools to such
Muslim organizations through excessive lease payments also violates the Establishment

“TiZA uses government money to endorse a religion, in this case Islam,” Minnesota ACLU Executive Director Chuck Samuelson told WND. “Money was being funneled to the mosque that owns the building” through rent payments.

Additionally, in the words of the court, the ACLU charges that TiZA has “permitted prayer to be posted prominently in the school’s entryway, prayer sessions to be held during school hours, teacher-sanctioned religious material to be posted in classrooms, parent-led or volunteer-led prayer during class-time, and teacher participation in prayer activities.” 

TiZA, a K-8 school, has about 500 students, many the children of immigrants. All students receive “tuition-free education,” according to the academy’s website.

“As an inspiration to our students, we have named our school after Tarek Ibn Ziyad, the Ummayad administrator of medieval Spain. Thirteen hundred years ago, serving in the multifaceted roles of activist, leader, explorer, teacher, administrator and peacemaker, he inspired his fellow citizens to the same striving for human greatness that we hope to instill in our students today.”

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