Judge allows ACLU lawsuit against school to continue

A federal judge on Tuesday allowed most of a lawsuit to continue over a metro-area charter school's disputed religious practices.

The American Civil Liberties Union claims TiZA Academy illegally promotes religion with taxpayer money by doing things like holding prayer during class time.

The school serve mostly immigrant children from Muslim countries, a 'vast majority' of whom are Somali. The school has campuses in Blaine and Inver Grove Heights. TiZA says any religious activities are optional.

The new ruling says the ACLU does have standing, a move that allows the suit to continue. Some of the case's claims, though, were dismissed, including all but one against the state Education Department. The state originally was named in the suit because the ACLU claimed it was offering lax, if any, oversight of the school and the roughly $3.8 million in taxpayer money it was to get in 2008-2009.

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Judge Donovan Frank noted the importance of 'taxpayer standing' in this case because it "seems unlikely that a parent or student of TiZA, who presumably attends the school because of its particularized program, would challenge the program of choice."

"We are grateful that the judge held that we have standing in this case," said ACLU-MN Executive Director Chuck Samuelson, in a statement. "We believe that it is important to ensure that taxpayer funds are used appropriately. TiZA has received millions of dollars of taxpayer funds and we have the right to question how these public funds are being used."

The Tiza Academy released a statement of their own in response: "As this case enters into the next stage, we remain confident the Court will continue to thoughtfully weigh the arguments and conclusively rule in favor of TiZA," said Erick Kaardal, Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy's legal counsel.

The state education department says it will review the remaining claim it faces. "The department expects that all charter schools comply with Minnesota law, including the provision that requires charter schools remain nonsectarian," noted Deputy Commissioner Chas Anderson, in a statement. "We continue to closely monitor the operations of TiZA Academy."

Just last week, the school sued the state in a separate case, claiming the department was illegally withholding state funding.