City of Tallahassee Planning Commission Mulls Vote on Controversial Charter School with Ties to Turkish Islamic Cleric
By Taniel Koushakjian
FLArmenians Political Contributor
October 1, 2013
TALLAHASSEE, FL – The Tallahassee-Leon County Planning Commission will hold a public hearing today on a proposal to build a controversial charter school, Stars Middle School, at 3607 Thomasville Road in Tallahassee, reported FLArmenians.com. Stars Middle School is part of an international network of Muslim schools operated by the “Gulen Movement,” a reference to the cult-like nature of followers of Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen. An Islamic political figure, author and religious scholar, Gulen is a Turkish citizen who has lived in self-imposed exile in the Poconos Mountains of Pennsylvania since 1998.
Although the process in Tallahassee is currently held up due to the school’s inability to file the necessary paperwork, the current controversy surrounding the city proposal has centered on community concerns of traffic impacts, safety, and city zoning jurisdictions, according to a report by WCTV. The Planning Commission has received over 200 calls and emails in petition to the proposed school, WCTV says. However, a closer look at the shadowy network reveals a deeper process at play, most likely unknown to Tallahassee city officials or residents.
THE MOVEMENT IN AMERICA
The Gulen movement’s network of schools can be found in a dozen countries across the globe. Here in the United States, the Gulen movement – a network of Turkish and Azerbaijani businessman, scientists, engineers, and Islamic religious figures – has propped up 140 schools in 26 states. Texas tops the list with 40 Gulen-connected schools, followed by Ohio with 30. However, the schools have been had difficulty in some states, such as Arizona and Utah, where financial troubles, shady business dealings, and revelations of genocide denial have prompted citizen advocacy groups, teachers and parents to question their merits.
A parent of a student at Sonoran Academy, a Gulen school in Arizona, told the Tucson Weekly, “We found one document, in Turkish, that talks about the purpose of these charter schools,” says the parent. “They refer to them very explicitly as schools (belonging) to their movement. They’re calculating, and they say if they can have something like 600 schools, then every year, they can produce 120,000 sympathizers for Turkey.”
“I sent my kids to this school because I wanted them to meet regular Muslims and to see them as ordinary people,” she says. “But when I find that my kids are to be turned into genocide-deniers, that’s very disturbing to me,” the parent told Tucson Weekly.
The parent, who spoke to the newspaper on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, was referencing the 1915 Ottoman Turkish Genocide of 1.5 million Christian Armenians in World War I. Over 20 countries and 43 U.S. states recognize the Armenian Genocide, as does a host of respected historians, such as the International Association of Genocide Scholars, the ultimate academic authority on the Holocaust and genocide.
In Utah, Beehive Science & Technology charter school faced multiple issues. Muhammet “Frank” Erdogan, a Muslim from Azerbaijan and the principal of Beehive, was the center of controversy when he “questioned conventional accounts” of the Holocaust and fired a teacher for not revising the lesson plan on World War II, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. Beehive was ultimately shut down because it “continuously failed to meet ‘accepted standards of fiscal management,’” according to the Desert News. “This is a case of chronic business mismanagement,” Brian Allen, chairman of the Utah State Charter School Board told the Desert News, after the school lost thousands of dollars.
One of the main problems is that the Gulen schools are funded by U.S. taxpayers, to the tune of millions of dollars in some states. Furthermore, the Gulen schools spend those American tax dollars to bring teachers over from Turkey, paying all legal and immigration costs, as well as their salaries. Even when American teachers are hired, they are typically paid less than their Turkish counterparts.
Florida has its history with Gulen schools too. Last year, Daily Broward reported that Riverside Science Academy had hired Broward County Democratic Party Chairman Mitchell Caesar to lobby the Broward County School Board on its behalf. The proposal for Riverside Science Academy in Margate did not materialize, as the necessary paperwork was also not filed in time.
The Gulen network’s rise has caught the attention of federal authorities as well. In 2011, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the charter school network and their leader, Fethullah Gulen, were under federal investigation by the FBI and Department of Labor. Although he resides in Pennsylvania, citizens there have pushed back as well. In July of this year, locals held a protest in Saylorsburg, PA to “Stop the World’s Most Dangerous Islamist.” Another slogan of the protest reads “Stop Cheating of American Taxpayers.”
“I’d be shocked if Floridians knew the true intentions behind these schools and willingly opened their wallets to pay for their construction and for non-U.S. citizens to come to America and teach Holocaust denial to our kids,” stated Margaret Atayants, FLArmenians Tallahassee Officer.
TALLAHASSEE PLANNING COMMISSION MEETING TONIGHT
The Tallahassee-Leon County Planning Commission hearing is set to take place today, October 1, 2013, at 6:00 PM at Tallahassee City Hall, Second Floor. The proposal for Stars Middle School, Ordinance Number 13-Z-26, is scheduled for debate this evening, according to the Commission’s website. The website also includes a recommendation below the proposal to adopt the ordinance and approve building the Gulen school in Tallahassee. However, a spokesman for the Commission informed FLArmenians on the morning of the hearing that debate on this issue has been continued to the November 5th meeting.
***UPDATE – The Tallahassee Planning Commission continued debate on the ordinance to the following meeting on Tuesday, November 5, 2013 at 6:00 PM. The status of the ordinance is not yet clear. However, the recommendation to adopt the proposal has been removed from the Commission’s website.
Floridians are encouraged to call and/or email the Tallahassee City Planning Commission, as well as Tallahassee Mayor John Brooks, and voice their opposition to “Ordinance Number 13-Z-27,” a proposal to build the Gulen-linked Stars Middle School in Tallahassee.
OPPOSE ORDINANCE NO. 13-Z-27
City of Tallahassee Planning Commission
– Call (850) 891-6400 and/or Email by clicking here.
Tallahassee Mayor John Brooks
– Call (850) 891-8181 and/or Email by clicking here.
Florida’s tax dollars need to be spent wisely, not on mysterious charter schools run by an Islamic cleric in Pennsylvania. There are plenty of qualified teachers here in Florida.
This story was updated at 12:25 PM on Wednesday, October 2, 2013 to reflect the postponement of the hearing.
By Red Broward
A proposed Broward charter school with ties to Fethullah Gulen, the mysterious Islamic cleric, hired Broward Democrat Chairman Mitchell Ceasar as its lobbyist before the Broward County School Board. Known as “Gulen Schools,” followers of Gulen have built thousands of charter schools all over the world. Last May, CBS News 60 Minutes television program documented the growing Gulen school movement in the United States. 60 Minutes said Gulen, living in seclusion in the Poconos mountains, appears only via video webcasts. Gulen, a Turkish citizen, was accused of treason by calling for an Islamic coup of the Turkish government. The report mentioned classified emails released by Wikileaks which disclosed some in the Turkish government see Gulen as a “political leader such as Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini.”
The 60 Minutes report covered accusations that Gulen schools abuse U.S. immigration laws by bringing in thousands of Turkish citizens to teach math and science at the charter schools. An official with a Texas charter school group called the claim “not sure” saying Turkish citizens are brought over because of a lack of “qualified” American teachers. But 60 Minutes found that visa applications for Gulen teachers listed them as “English teachers.” Oops! Some American teachers claim Gulen teachers are forced to give a portion of their salaries back to the Gulen movement.
Paging the Broward Teachers Union!
Dating back to 2007, Gulen followers, under the name of Riverside Science Inc., have been trying to open a charter school in Broward County. Their first try, Riverside Science Academy, failed after school officials were unable to secure a lease. Just before the start of the 2012-13 school year, the group’s second try, “Broward Math And Science School,” was denied the right to open a Margate campus. CBS 4 News reported, “The district said each school failed to submit documentation of certain provisions they had to meet before the July 20th deadline. The schools in question were given several reminders of the deadline and notified that ‘Failure to provide the required documents within the specific timeframe terminated the charter agreement.’”
So like any other business seeking government influence, Riverside Science Inc. decided they needed a lobbyist. According to Broward Schools lobbyist records, the group hired Mitchell Ceasar in December 2012.
Caesar, a Plantation attorney, is also the chairman of the Broward Democrat Executive Committee.
Sure, local Republicans and Tea Party groups will be quick to blast Caesar for helping the controversial Gulen followers. However, even liberals may find fault with the Gulen schools.
The New York Times reported on State of Georgia audits which found Gulen charter schools funneled money and contracts to other Gulen followers. “The audit, released Tuesday by the Fulton County Schools near Atlanta, found the schools made purchases like T-shirts, teacher training and video production services from organizations with connections to school officials or Gulen followers. Those included more than $500,000 in contracts since January 2010 with the Grace Institute, a foundation whose board has included school leaders. In some cases the awards skirted bidding requirements, the audit said.”
Why is Mitch Caesar so eager to help followers of a shadowy Muslim cleric funnel taxpayer dollars to Turkey and who knows where? Broward school dollars should be spent in Broward, not in the Poconos mountains or Turkey.
This story originally appeared on The Daily Broward and is reprinted with the permission of the author.