Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy claims the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota has defamed the Inver Grove Heights charter school and is trying to damage its relationships with parents and prospective employees.
In a countersuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court, lawyers for TiZA argue the ACLU has made maliciously false and defamatory statements that have injured “the good name of TiZA” and its reputation.
The statements also have sparked threats of violence against TiZA staff members, the suit contends.
TiZA’s suit is in response to an ACLU lawsuit filed in January, which argues the school violates the First Amendment by sharing space with the Muslim American Society of Minnesota, promoting prayer in school and endorsing Muslim clothing rules and dietary practices.
“The ACLU’s claims are meritless, as TiZA has followed state and federal regulations,” said TiZA legal counsel Erick Kaardal. “TiZA hopes the court will prevent the ACLU from inflicting further interference and defamation with a permanent injunction.”
Chuck Samuelson, executive director of the ACLU-MN, declined to comment Tuesday night because the organization’s lawyers were still wading through the new legal filings.
The countersuit by TiZA also claims that the ACLU has unlawfully interfered with contracts the school has with its sponsor, families and employees.
The ACLU knowingly made public statements that were untrue about the school, and those “false statements and innuendohas caused potential employees to rescind their respective employment applications with TiZA,” school officials contend in the suit.
Since the January ACLU lawsuit, TiZA officials claim, at least 10 prospective educators withdrew applications in the middle of the hiring process. As a result, the school has several open positions.
TiZA, founded in 2003, has about 480 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. The school has campuses in Inver Grove Heights and Blaine. It received about $4.7 million in state funding this past school year.
Tuesday’s filing is the latest twist in the school’s legal battles. TiZA also sued state education officials July 16 in Ramsey County District Court over allegations that some of its teachers lack proper licenses.
TiZA officials claim the Minnesota Department of Education notified the school June 1 that the state would withhold $1.4 million in aid and grants as a penalty for the lack of licenses but refused to provide school officials with the public documents they needed to defend themselves at an appeals hearing.
The department released more than 10,000 pages of documents to TiZA on Friday, as ordered by a district judge.
Megan Boldt can be reached at 651-228-5495.
Source: Pioneer Press