Controversy Over Charter Schools Erupts In Idaho And Minnesota

Controversy over charter schools has erupted in two states recently, with claims being made that schools in Idaho and Minnesota are illegally teaching religion.


In Nampa, Idaho, some residents expressed concern after the leaders of a charter school said they planned to borrow much of their curriculum from a private Christian preparatory school in Michigan.


Charter schools are publicly funded and are considered part of the public school system. They are exempt from some of the regulations that public schools must meet and are often started by community groups to explore educational alternatives. However, they may not teach religion.


The Idaho Public Charter Commission has told Isaac Moffett, founder of NampaClassicalAcademy, that he cannot use the Bible as part of the school’s curriculum. Moffett has vowed to teach the Bible “for its literary and historic qualities” but also said he wanted to give students the opportunity to “explore several versions of creationism.”


Moffett has said he does not agree with the major educational philosophies of today. According to an article in The Boise Weekly, “Moffett bemoaned the works of secular progressives” that were offered at teacher colleges. He founded Nampa Classical, which will use curriculum that does not include “certain sex ed” and does not harshly judge Christopher Columbus “for introducing disease to the New World.”


In addition, “kids will learn about Native Americans,” Moffett told the newspaper, but only because “you can’t understand why they were conquered so easily without understanding their culture.”


Moffett has based his curriculum not just on the Christian prep school in Michigan, but also on the book, Classical Education: The Movement Sweeping America, which was published by a conservative think tank and written by authors who once worked at Boise’s FoundationsAcademyChristianSchool. The authors’ 20-plus books all discuss how to engage society with Christianity.


After the Charter Commission ruled against the school, the Alliance Defense Fund, a Religious Right legal group, filed a lawsuit arguing that the school’s rights are being violated. 


In Minnesota, state officials are investigating whether two charter schools that are operated in mosques violate state law.


Chas Anderson, deputy commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Education, told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that officials are examining Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy’s use of “lease aid” grants, money given to help charter schools find space.


“If it is subsidizing a mosque, in our view that would be a violation of state and federal law,” Anderson said.


The Islamic academy has received $2.2 million in lease aid since 2003. It leases space from two companies owned by a mosque in Duluth. The academies are located in Blaine and InnerGroveHeights, suburbs of Minneapolis-St. Paul, on grounds that also contain mosques.


Academy officials say there are prayer rooms at both schools but argue they are there to accommodate students’ religious needs.


The inquiry came after the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota brought the matter to light.