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.