Charter applicants face harsh criticism from opposition movement
Block the Loudoun Math and IT Academy or “almighty God will hold you accountable for it,” one speaker told the School Board’s charter school Select Committee Monday.
William Cook, a clergyman leading the Black Robe Regiment, an activist Christian organization, was among the many commenters opposed to the math & IT charter school being considered by the School Board.
Cook referenced “Matthew 18:6” in the Bible, which says it would be better for those who would lead believers away from God to have a heavy millstone hung around the neck and be drowned in the sea than suffer God’s punishment.
“It will be your neck around which the heavy millstone of retribution will inevitably be hung,” Cook said.
Cook was told by committee chair Jeff Morse (Dulles) to end his testimony after delivering this proclamation.
He alleged that the charter school was secretly being set up a Muslim religious school.
His words were the harshest of the opposition movement’s to the charter school, which comprised most of the 18 speakers at the meeting that was held Nov. 19. The movement has been speaking at public hearings on the school since the application process began in August.
The proposed school would serve grades six through 12 with a program emphasizing math and science, modeled after the Chesapeake Science Point Charter School (CSP) in Maryland, according to the school’s application.
A phased-in enrollment process would have 192 students enroll in the first year, with a maximum capacity of 672 students by the sixth year.
The Select Committee is comprised of chair Jeff Morse (Dulles), Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) and Brenda Sheridan (Sterling), who remained silent throughout the meeting. The committee is tasked with either recommendation for or against the charter’s approval.
Many of the speakers opposing the school focused on the theory that the school would be religious in nature, attempting to connect it with Turkish Muslim cleric Fetullah Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile from Turkey in Pennsylvania.
Gulen’s website states he is opposed to terrorism, cooperation between different religions, the compatibility of science and faith and democracy as the only viable form of government.
Opponents allege that Gulen’s followers run more than a hundred charter schools in the United States, including CSP in Anne Arundel County and that the applicants are secretly Gulenists as well.
Gulen said in a USA Today story he is not connected to the charter schools in any way. CSP and the applicants have also rejected the label.
James Cha, a pastor at Open Door Presbyterian Church in Herndon, who said he taught in a Gulen charter school in Uzbekistan, said there were no religious teachings in the classrooms but efforts were made to recruit teachers to Gulen’s brand of Islam, which allegedly preaches teaching science as service to God.
“There was recruitment for students into religious programs outside of the classroom,” Cha said. “Those who showed a lot of interest were actually taken to Turkey and trained in their religion and came back as jihadists.”
Another major point of opposition to the charter was its connection to CSP, which is currently embroiled in a lawsuit with their county and on a temporary three-year charter.
The applicants are seeking the help of two men previously involved in CSP: founder Ali Bacik and former principal Fatih Kandil.
“It [CSP] is extensively flawed,” said Jo-Ann, one of the school’s largest critics and former House of Delegates candidate.
Rachel Sargent, a former public school teacher, read from the Anne Arundel school system’s report on CSP, which said that the school failed to accommodate students with special needs, employed ineffective financial controls and accounting principles.
“This is fact, this is what we have presented to you at many of the meetings before,” Sargent said. “It is important that we have a background about this.”
The few speakers who spoke supporting the school defended its educational mission of more STEM and IT education for students and refuted the religious nature of the school.
Mary Porter Green, the founder of Curiosity Zone, which teaches science at a pre-school level, said she was surprised the debate wasn’t about whether or not Loudoun needed more science programs.
“It’s a school that will be open to all children, not just students with academic achievements,” Green said. “I think it would be really beneficial.”
Mindy Williams, a partner with Access Point Public Affairs representing the applicants, said that the opposition movement’s claims were not factual.
“Not all of the information that has been presented as fact is in fact, fact,” Williams said.
Mustafa Sahin, one of the charter school applicants living Ashburn, spoke in defense of his proposed school.
“This a public school and of course our religion is not going to be part of this teaching,” Sahin said. “We are of course going to be following the curriculum that is going to be in every public school’s curriculum.”
Sahin also commented on the hearing’s tone.
“I wish we were able to introduce ourselves and let us know each other better in a friendly environment,” Sahin said. “But this is the platform that we have.”
Morse acknowledged a large amount of passion from both sides of the issue and said that part of the committee’s job is to listen to a variety of arguments.
“Our job is to take the emotion out and focus on the application,” Morse said.
He said that he submitted several questions to the applicants that he hoped would be answered and lead to a more well-rounded debate at the public hearing this Thursday.
“I just hope that people treat each other with professionalism and respect,” Morse said.
The next two public hearings of the committee are scheduled for Nov. 29 and Dec. 6.