Thursday, March 13, 2008

Ben Gamla: The Hillary Clinton of Charter Schools?

Remember those SNL skits about the special treatment Barack Obama got from the media as opposed to Hillary Clinton?

Bear with me.

With the rising costs of Jewish Day School education, there was a lot of curiosity--and critical appraisal--greeting the opening of the Ben Gamla Charter School in Florida. One of the main criticisms had to do with the separation of church and state:
In fact, the first three weeks at Ben Gamla were spent without any Hebrew language instruction whatsoever, while the Broward County school board verified that the curriculum was, in fact, cleansed of any possible reference to religion. Ben Gamla is now on its third rendition of a Hebrew curriculum: the first, NETA (created by Hebrew University in Jerusalem), was summarily ruled out, as was the second, ironically, the Broward County public schools' own curriculum. Based on a compromise hammered out by Ben Gamla and the school board, it also submits all lesson plans to a state-sponsored history professor every month for "censoring."

But, while nothing has needed censoring yet, not everyone is satisfied. In fact, according to the charter school consortium's Ziebarth, no other dual language-and-culture school has ever caused this much controversy - not even the Gateway Academy Charter Schools in Fresno, Calif., which were investigated for direct ties to the Islamic terrorist organization Al Fuqra, or the Khalil Gibran International Academy in Brooklyn, N.Y., which has also faced criticism. Ziebarth offers no answers for the discrepancy, but he does note that a significant portion of the complaints against Ben Gamla have come from the private-school sector.
Well, it turns out that another charter school that has escaped the kind of scrutiny that Ben Gamla has gone through is in Minnesota.

Get a load of the Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy (TIZA), named for the Muslim conquerer of Spain, as described by Scott Johnson of Powerline:
TIZA's calendar and days are set up to accommodate Muslim students. School breaks for prayers at 1:00 in the carpeted prayer area in the middle of the school. TIZA's cafeteria is halal. Arabic as a second language is mandatory. According to a document filed by TIZA with the Minnesota Department of Education, it provides after-school (religious) instruction "conducted by various non-profit organizations" that is the main reason given by 77 percent of parents for sending their children to TIZA. The after-school instruction is overwhelmingly the primary reason given by parents for sending their children to TIZA.

According to Sunday's Star Tribune column by Katherine Kersten, after-school religious instruction is provided by the Muslim American Society of Minnesota. School buses wait outside the school for the students to complete their after-school religious instruction at the end of the day. The Muslim American Society of Minnesota is perhaps best known as the proponent of the fatwa prohibiting Muslim taxi drivers from transporting travelers carrying alcohol from the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
Unlike the Ben Gamla Charter School, TIZA seems to have escaped close scrutiny and criticism--in fact the fawning media has approvingly noted the similarity of TIZA to private schools:
TIZA has been the subject of friendly articles in the local press that note the school's Islamic character. In November 2004, Tammy Oseid noted in an admiring St. Paul Pioneer Press article that the school "resembles the private Al-Amal Islam School" in suburban Minneapolis. In March 2007 Minnesota Monthly's Kevin Featherly noted that "a visitor might well mistake Tarek ibn Ziyad for an Islamic school."
This in spite of the fact that according to the law, a charter school--supported by taxpayer money--it supposed to not encourage religion, and in this case should not be endorsing Islam.

Scott Johnson spoke to Assistant Commissioner Morgan Brown of the Minnesota Department of Education about TIZA. abou how TIZA differed from a religious school like the Al-Amal School. According to Brown, the difference is that TIZA supplies religious instruction at the end of the school day at 3:30 at which point it is provided by the Muslim American Society of Minnesota--and as long as the instruction was voluntary and there was "equal access to other providers," the nonsectarian character of the school was not violated. Furthermore, according to Brown, "so long as prayer is voluntary and not led by school officials, it does not detract from the school's nonsectarian character."

Brown said he was going to investigate further in response to an article by Katherine Kersten about the schools curriculum and activities, but in the meantime, the separation of church and state in a charter school funded by taxpayer dollars does seem to have been crossed in a way that is unthinkable in Florida.

According to the article about Ben Gamla:
Ben Gamla founder Peter Deutsch dreams of opening 100 Hebrew language charter schools across the country.
May we humbly suggest he try starting with Minnesota?

Crossposted at Soccer Dad

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1 comment:

Esser Agaroth said...

B"H This is amazing! Not just the double standards. Those are to be expected. But that there is such blatant religious activity at a "charter school" in Minnesota! Is the U. S. going to start funding its own midrasas?