Equity & Diversity

Muslim-Led Schools Say Sept. 11 Affected Charter Decision

By Linda Jacobson — January 30, 2002 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A lawyer for a Muslim-led group of charter schools based in Fresno, Calif., is calling a decision to revoke the school’s charter a reaction to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, and is seeking a court injunction that would allow the schools to continue receiving public funds.

Sept. 11 “was definitely influential in their decision,” said Akil K. Secret, an Atlanta-based lawyer who is representing the Gateway Academy. “I think the decision was clearly politically motivated.”

But officials from the Fresno Unified School District said problems at the K-12 school—which had expanded to satellite campuses throughout the state without the district’s knowledge— started long before the terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Information compiled by the district, which cut off all funding to the schools on Jan. 16, outlined numerous financial, educational, and safety violations.

According to a letter from Fresno Superintendent Santiago V. Wood to state Superintendent Delaine Eastin, none of the sites had clearance from fire marshals to operate, more than half of Gateway’s 162 employees were working without criminal-background checks, and two of them were convicted felons.

Gateway Visit

A visit to a Gateway site by a district representative in October also revealed exposed wiring, holes in floors, and a window covered with cardboard.

“It’s not like Gateway didn’t know this was coming,” said Jill Marmolejo, a spokeswoman for the district.

She added that a preliminary audit of the school’s finances showed a deficit of nearly $1 million on Sept. 6, and that officials at the school repeatedly missed deadlines for submitting documents to the district.

While district officials also heard reports that the Koran was being taught at one of the campuses in Silicon Valley, Ms. Marmolejo said they did not personally witness the teaching of religion, which is prohibited at charter schools.

In fact, she said, officials were initially impressed by what they saw in the classroom.

Without public funds, Gateway, which serves more than 600 students, is operating as a “private, voluntary school,” the spokeswoman said, and added that while the school can become independent, she doubts that many of the parents could afford to pay tuition.

While some students from Gateway have transferred back into the Fresno schools since the board’s decision, Mr. Secret said there had not been a large exodus from the school.

Rapid Expansion

Gateway Academy was founded in 2000 by residents of Baladullah, a small, predominantly Muslim village located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains and within the Fresno school district.

The school quickly began opening additional satellite campuses, including one in Pomona in Los Angeles County and one in Oakland. At one point, the school had a total of 14 campuses, but currently has 11, four of which are in Fresno County.

“There was chronic opening, closing, and moving of campuses,” Ms. Marmolejo said.

Mr. Secret said that he believes the board’s decision was premature, and that district officials did not give the relatively new school a chance to correct the problems or to have an independent audit conducted.

The district’s deadline for the audit was Jan. 4, after it granted the charter school an extension.

“Their action is not consistent with actions taken by other boards” in disputes with charter schools, he said. “There was no auditing firm that was willing or capable of producing an audit before January 4.”

But Gary Larson, a spokesman for the San Carlos-based California Network of Educational Charters, a membership organization, said the group was “satisfied with the level of oversight and the patience” with which Fresno handled the situation.

He added that while charter school advocates do not want additional restrictions placed on their schools, the organization is pondering legislation that would keep charter schools from opening campuses without first notifying the district that granted their charters.

“It is essential for all schools to notify their authorizing district, but it’s obviously clear that Gateway wasn’t doing that,” Mr. Larson said.

A version of this article appeared in the January 30, 2002 edition of Education Week as Muslim-Led Schools Say Sept. 11 Affected Charter Decision


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
IT Infrastructure & Management Webinar
From Chaos to Clarity: How to Master EdTech Management and Future-Proof Your Evaluation Processes
The road to a thriving educational technology environment is paved with planning, collaboration, and effective evaluation.
Content provided by Instructure
Special Education Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table - Special Education: Proven Interventions for Academic Success
Special education should be a launchpad, not a label. Join the conversation on how schools can better support ALL students.
Special Education K-12 Essentials Forum Innovative Approaches to Special Education
Join this free virtual event to explore innovations in the evolving landscape of special education.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Equity & Diversity More Schools Stock Tampons and Pads, But Access Is Still a Problem
Period products are becoming more commonplace in schools. But there are gaps in funding—and in access, a barrier for lower-income students.
7 min read
Photograph of hygienic tampons and a sanitary pad on a blue background.
Equity & Diversity A School Board Reinstated Confederate School Names. Could It Happen Elsewhere?
Shenandoah County's school board voted in May to reinstate two Confederate names. Researchers wonder if others will, too.
7 min read
A statue of confederate general Stonewall Jackson is removed on July 1, 2020, in Richmond, Va. Shenandoah County, Virginia's school board voted 5-1 early Friday, May 10, 2024, to rename Mountain View High School as Stonewall Jackson High School and Honey Run Elementary as Ashby Lee Elementary four years after the names had been removed.
A statue of confederate general Stonewall Jackson is removed on July 1, 2020, in Richmond, Va. The Shenandoah County, Va. school board voted 5-1 on May 10, 2024, to restore the names of Confederate leaders and soldiers to two schools, four years after the names had been removed.
Steve Helber/AP
Equity & Diversity How 9 Leaders Think About Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Their Schools
District and school leaders share their take on DEI and what it means for all students to experience inclusion and belonging.
6 min read
An illustration of six speech bubbles that are different in size and of varying shades of blue.
Equity & Diversity Opinion When Did We Become Disillusioned With Desegregation?
Forty years ago, the civil rights attorney and professor Derrick Bell diagnosed where the legacy of Brown v. Board of Education went wrong.
7 min read
Topeka, Kansas, USA: Afternoon sun shines on the school at the center of the Brown v Board of Education legal decision that ended educational segregation.
Matt Gush/iStock