The Loudoun County School Board heard from some 20 speakers at a public hearing this week that they should not approve what would be Northern Virginia’s first charter school, with many of them alleging that the Turkish applicants are connected to a network of charter schools inspired by Turkish Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen. Three people spoke in favor of the application.
The applicants, who operate the Chesapeake Science Point Public Charter School in Anne Arundel County, denied any connection to Gulen or the network of more than 135 charter schools in some 25 states that authorities suspect are run by followers of the reclusive Gulen. “The only affiliation this school will have is to the Loudoun County School Board, the Virginia Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Education,” said applicant Fetih Kandil.
The months-long application process for the proposed Loudoun Math & IT Academy is expected to end next Tuesday, when the school board will take a final vote. A select committee of the board voted recently to reject the request to open the school, not because of the Gulen allegations but because of numerous problems cited with the application itself, including over curriculum and student transportation.
The last public hearing on the application was held Tuesday night (you can watch it here if you have three hours and 32 minutes to spare), where each board member listed specific concerns about the plan to open the school, including an apparent preference indicated by the applicants — who will not only run the school but serve as the governing body — to hire many of the teachers from outside the United States. Asked about that, Kandil was quoted by Leesburg Today as saying:
“There are certain areas that we have identified deficiencies in having qualified teachers in certain areas.” Those areas, he added, are science, math, technology and foreign language. “You cannot just go outside and find an IT teacher and expect them to offer cyber security courses to our students.”
The hearing began with a succession of public speakers talking about the proposed charter’s links to Gulen and described how the schools have functioned elsewhere. For example, the first speaker, Mary Addi, said she and her husband, Mustafa Emanet, had worked at a Gulen charter school in Ohio, which was opened in Dayton with the help of one of the Loudoun charter applicants, Fatih Kandil. She said her husband, a Turk, had been been involved in the Gulen movement and that Turkish teachers at the school had to turn over 40 percent of their salaries back to the movement to a secret fund.
As it turns out, many charter schools suspected of being in the Gulen network have been the subject of probes by the FBI and the Departments of Labor and Education, who have been investigating whether some employees at some U.S. charter schools are “kicking back part of their salaries” to the Gulen Movement, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported in this story. The New York Times and CBS News as well as PBS have reported on the Gulen charter network in the last 18 months, citing problems such as whether these schools give special preference to Turkish companies when handing out contracts.
It is also the case that the applicants in Loudoun have had huge disagreements with Anne Arundel County officials over the charter school they run there, and are now suing the county. Last summer, the Anne Arundel school won a three-year extension of its charter, which has had academic success but has other major problems cited by the county superintendent, Kevin Maxwell. In a post last summer I noted:
Maxwell wants the school, among other things, to hire qualified and fully certified teachers, allow parents to elect the board of directors “to reflect the community it serves,” use appropriate procurement and bidding processes for outside contracts, use the same data system that other public schools in the country use, follow board policy for the hiring of foreign nationals, and agree not to allow any of its contractors or subcontractors to “knowingly employ” anybody who has been investigated for criminal activity.
Who is Gulen? He now now lives in seclusion in Pennsylvania, having won a petition to emigrate to the United States, though he is believed to have strong influence in Turkey. When he first applied for a special visa to come into the country, the Department of Homeland Security denied it. A lawsuit challenging the decision was filed in 2007 in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, and in it his attorneys wrote that he was “head of the Gulen Movement,” and an important educational figure who had “overseen” the creation of a network of schools in the United States as well as in other countries, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported in this story. He was granted a green card in 2008.
Now the big questions are whether the board will approve or reject the application, and whether Stevens knows anything about the Gulen network.