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Charter Schools or Terrorist Front?

The Anti-Defamation League investigates GateWay Academy.

by Wendy J. Madnick

January 24, 2002 | 7:00 pm

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is investigating a link between a troubled system of charter schools in California and the Muslim terrorist organization Al-Fuqra.

Earlier this month, the ADL, through its San Francisco office, urged state Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin to suspend funding and investigate the activities of GateWay Academy charter schools, claiming that the schools were linked to a terrorist network and that the organization has been violating constitutional law regarding the separation of church and state for government-funded education.

Coincidentally, yet apparently unrelated to the investigation, the Fresno Unified School District, which holds the charter for GateWay Academy's 11 sites, voted unanimously Jan. 16 to revoke the charter, citing as support for its decision GateWay's own documents showing that the institution was $1.3 million in debt. The board's action cuts off all state funding for GateWay.

In addition, according to the Fresno Bee, "a 3-inch-thick district compliance report alleged that the charter schools operated in buildings without fire inspections, hired employees without required background checks, submitted questionable attendance records and failed to complete an itemized financial report."

GateWay Academy received its charter in 1998 and was supposed to open for the 1999-2000 school year but did not begin until the fall of 2000. At its peak, the schools claimed a total of about 1,000 students at 14 sites between Sunnyvale and Pomona.

However, according to Ilene Cubanski, administrator of California's District Organization and Charter Schools Office, enrollment has dropped to 265. Cubanski also reported that during its 18 months of operation, the GateWay Academy charter schools had received more than $2 million in state funds, including a $250,000 loan.

Eastin expressed her support for Fresno Unified School District's decision, saying, "The state has an obligation to protect taxpayer dollars and ensure that they be used both wisely and according to state law."

Regarding the ADL's allegations of the school's misconduct, contacts at Eastin's office said they were not conducting any further investigation at this time.

The schools first came to the attention of the ADL late last summer.

"An article appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle which indicated there were problems at the schools," said Jonathan Bernstein, director of the ADL's San Francisco office. "In the article, they talked about [one of] the schools being located in a compound outside Fresno. That was enough for us to raise our eyebrows and start checking."

The ADL discovered the school in question was located at Baladullah, in the foothills near Fresno, and said to be an armed compound run under the auspices of the Muslims of the Americas (MOA), reportedly a virulently anti-Semitic, anti-Christian and anti-homosexual group. According to Bernstein, the MOA has been linked with Al-Fuqra, a terrorist organization that has committed firebombings and several murders in the United States and whose membership includes suspects in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

"We've been watching Al-Fuqra for a while," Bernstein said. He described the group as a secretive Muslim sect whose adherents were primarily African American.

"They operate out of several armed compounds around the country," he said. "Its members are on the young side and tend to come from the inner city. Many at the Fresno complex are from Los Angeles.

"They will tell you they are there to get away from the material world into a simpler life and to devote themselves to Islam, but many of the members are tied to all kinds of criminal behavior, and their literature [shows] clearly that they hate Zionists, feminists, Hindus, Christians and Americans."

In addition to concerns about the MOA acting as a front for Al-Fuqra, the ADL also objected to the GateWay schools for promoting religion in the classroom. According to reports, students would study Islam and pray in class with teachers.

"It comes down to these two issues, [that] we do not think it is right for taxpayers to support religious proselytizing, nor should they have to support a group tied to terrorist organizations," Bernstein said. "In terms of the school, there's not as much to do now that they won't be getting any more state funding. But we will continue to monitor the situation and work with lawmakers and other officials."

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