Summit Charter School postpones start in Inver Grove Heights

Summit Charter School was set to open at 4100 66th St. E. in Inver Grove Heights for the upcoming school year but recently announced a year-long delay. The building is shared with STEP Academy.  (Jesse Poole/Review)
Summit Charter School was set to open at 4100 66th St. E. in Inver Grove Heights for the upcoming school year but recently announced a year-long delay. The building is shared with STEP Academy. (Jesse Poole/Review)
Magdy Rabeaa, executive director of Summit Charter School. (submitted photo)
Magdy Rabeaa, executive director of Summit Charter School. (submitted photo)

Administrators addressing accusations of ties to former TiZA charter school

On Wednesday, students enrolled at Summit Charter School — the new K-5 charter school set to open in Inver Grove Heights — found out they’ll have to go elsewhere for the upcoming school year.

According to an update on the school’s website, the start of the school will be delayed by one year, as administrators spend more time developing its Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics educational program.

But that’s not the only thing Executive Director Magdy Rabeaa and his staff will be addressing in the upcoming months. Rabeaa is also seeking to differentiate Summit from Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy — a now defunct charter school that once operated in the same location at 4100 66th St. E. in Inver Grove Heights. STEP Academy and the Muslim American Society of Minnesota are currently leasing space in the building, which was formerly owned by ISD 199 and housed the Inver Grove Elementary School.

TiZA filed bankruptcy in 2011 after being involved in a three-year legal battle with the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, namely for violation of the establishment clause that separates church and state. While Rabeaa was not a defendant in the case, he served as the assistant director at TiZA’s Inver Grove Heights campus — a connection that has prompted further investigation by a number of state and local officials.

“I have been in touch with the Department of Education to ask them to take a close look at this,” Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, told the Review. “Like me, they have been getting all sorts of questions and concerns about the Summit Charter School.”

Focus on STEM, not religion 

Rumors have been circulating that the former founder and administrator of TiZA, Asad Zaman, may somehow be involved with the new Summit Charter School. He and Rabeaa both worked at TiZA in an administrative capacity.

But last week Rabeaa told the Review that Zaman will not be involved in the new Summit Charter School, at any level.

“We are a brand new charter school with a new focus and identity,” he said.

“We are here with the sole purpose of meeting the educational needs of students and providing the very best in education.”

Rabeaa holds an M.A. in education and English from Mansoura University in Egypt. He also completed the English as a Second Language Licensure program at Hamline University in 2005, where he is currently enrolled in the K-12 Principal Administrative Licensure Program.

After TiZA closed, Rabeaa worked as the assistant director at Best Academy in Minneapolis through the 2013-2014 school year.

Then he spent one year in the same position with Hennepin Elementary School, under the direct supervision of Julie Henderson, who also served as his direct supervisor at Best Academy.

“I hold his character in the highest regard and it’s a shame that a very small group of people can cause so much harm to one individual,” she told the Review. “As a professional, I’ve known him to be honest, hard working, reliable and kind.”

Asked what differentiates the new Summit Charter School from the shuttered TiZA, Rabeaa told the Review that Summit Charter School is in no way affiliated with TiZA’s founders, board members or school authorizer.

“Our educational focus, primarily our STEM focus, distinguishes us,” he added. “Summit has no religious affiliation.”

While the TiZA student body was largely Muslim, Rabeaa says the faculty won’t know what Summit’s student body will look like until enrollment opens for the 2016-2017 school year.

The school’s authorizer, Innovative Quality Schools, requested the school spend one more year of planning to better prepare for the STEM program, Rabeaa said, noting a lack of sufficient space at the planned Inver Grove Heights location was a major contributing factor to the delay.

Vetting the situation

When the Minnesota Department of Education began receiving complaints about Summit Charter School — similar to those local officials were hearing — it filed a request for an investigation by the school’s authorizer, Innovative Quality Schools, on June 30.

“They’re the entity that oversees the charter school,” Minnesota Department of Education spokesman Josh Collins explained. “We’ve enquired to them.”

As stated in the letter, the complainant was alleging concerns that Summit Charter School may be a “re-emergence of the controversial TiZA charter school,” along with allegations of conflicts of interest.

Innovative Quality Schools was granted an extension on its deadline to July 22, but the results of the investigation were not made available before the Review went to press.

Given the anticipated location of Summit Charter School for the 2015-2016 school year in Inver Grove Heights, Mayor George Tourville said he was receiving calls from residents voicing similar concerns. He passed the concerns on to the Department of Education, he said, because the city does not have jurisdiction over whether or not a charter school is allowed within city limits.

Currently, STEP Academy is operating in the space formerly occupied by TiZA at 4100 66th St. E. and Summit was slated to share the building.

Asked why Summit chose the same location, given the flurry of speculation, Rabeaa told the Review, “It is very hard for a charter school to find a suitable school building.

“Summit worked with a realtor to find a school building. The Inver Grove Heights campus was recommended to us,” he said, listing a number of school amenities that were already in place in the building.

“We were not able to find a comparable space. We will be seeking a different location for the 2016 school year.”

Erin Hinrichs can be reached at 651-748-7814 and ehinrichs@lillienews.com. Follow her at twitter.com/EHinrichsNews.


The demise of TiZA

The 300-student, K-8 Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy charter school caught the attention of media outlets in 2008, after Katherine Kersten wrote a column in the Star Tribune about the school that implied TiZA was a covert religious institution, where students were corralled into mass Islamic prayer sessions led by teachers.

TiZA was receiving funding from both the state and Islamic Relief, a Muslim non-profit group based in California. Islamic Relief’s two founders were leaders of the Muslim American Society of Minnesota, which was sharing its headquarters with the school and a mosque at 4100 66th St. E. in Inver Grove Heights.

In the whirlwind of local and national news coverage that ensued, the Minnesota Department of Education led an investigation into alleged compliance issues. The report indicated the allegations were not substantiated.

However, it also highlighted several problem areas TiZA needed to address to retain its charter.

At the time of the investigation, no transportation was provided to bring students home at the end of the regular school day.

Rather, pick-up time coincided with the end of an extracurricular Muslim studies class, run by the Muslim American Society. About two-thirds of the school’s students were enrolled in the after-school program.

A Friday prayer session on school grounds also raised concerns. In keeping with the practice of Islam, the school was providing a 30-minute block of time for students and teachers to pray together, interrupting class time.

As local media outlets arrived at the school to report on the findings of the Department of Education’s report, the school’s administrator and founder, Asad Zaman, confronted a KSTP Channel 5 news team and attempted to pull a TV camera from a cameraman’s hands. The incident was caught on camera by a KARE 11 news crew, which had been granted permission to film on school grounds.

In January 2009, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against TiZA in federal district court, claiming the charter school had been using taxpayer money to promote religion. The Minnesota Department of Education was listed as a co-defendant for its alleged failure to provide proper oversight.

Later that year, the state’s commissioner of education upheld the Minnesota Department of Education’s decision to fine TiZA $139,801.66 for employing teachers who did not hold valid teaching licenses or permits.

Facing million of dollars in legal expenses, the TiZA charter school with campuses in Blaine and Inver Grove Heights, filed for bankruptcy on June 30, 2011, after failing to obtain a new authorizer.

The court case with ACLU continued through August 2012, when a settlement agreement set forth the following stipulations: Zaman agree to pay back $17,500 to the state, drop more than $360,000 in bankruptcy claims, and agree to not serve in leadership positions in Minnesota public charter schools for three years. 

 

Rate this article: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)
Comment Here