Lawsuit Claims Religious Discrimination Led To School Director’s Termination

School executive fired after raising concerns over Muslim prayer room

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Discovery Charter School Photo: Hannah Burlingame/LillieNews.com

INVER GROVE HEIGHTS, Minn. – The now former Executive Director of Discovery Charter School in Inver Grove Heights has filed a lawsuit alleging that whistleblowing and religious discrimination led to his termination from the school.

Dan Hurley, who was hired as the Discovery Charter School’s founding Executive Director in February 2016, claims he was fired in June 2017 just days after he spoke to the school’s board chairman, Samuel Master about his concerns that the school may have violated the establishment clause of the Constitution by having Muslim prayer rooms inside the school, according to court documents.

The establishment clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution says that neither a state nor the federal government can set up a church or can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another.

The Discovery Charter School occupies the same building that once housed the now-defunct Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy (TiZA), which was founded by Asad Zaman, who is currently the director of the Muslim American Society of Minnesota (MASM) and has an office in the same building as Discovery.

The ACLU filed a lawsuit against TiZA in 2009 for promoting religion at a publicly funded charter school and the school was shut down in 2011 by the Minnesota Department of Education (DOE) due to the lack of an approved charter school sponsor.

Sponsors, also called authorizers, are required by state law to monitor the finances and student performances at charter schools. According to the Star Tribune, prior to being shut down, TiZA had approached eight prospective authorizers who either rejected or never responded to the request. However, one authorizer, Novation Educational Opportunities (NEO) had applied to sponsor TiZA, but the Minnesota DOE denied TiZA’s application to switch to a new authorizer. NEO now authorizes Discovery Charter School.

Discovery Charter School’s mission statement says the school embraces “a multidisciplinary curriculum with an emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) to provide a challenging learning environment that values creativity, diversity and multiculturalism to prepare its students for lifelong learning, collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving.”

As a charter school, Discovery is legally allowed to rent or share space with a religious institution. However, the school is prohibited by law to give preference to or endorse a specific religion.

Hurley’s lawsuit against Discovery states that during his employment, he noticed a room at the school was routinely used for “Salat” or Muslim prayer which was located near Zaman’s office. A few days before his termination, Hurley looked inside the room and noted various Islamic writings on the wall, numerous copies of the Quran and permanent carpeting in the shape of prayer rugs on the floor. Hurley stated that Zaman directed him never to enter the room with his shoes on because it would be disrespectful to Muslims.

The complaint also claims Hurley, a Catholic, was told by Zaman to cover a crucifix that he wore around his neck as it was a sign of disrespect to the majority Muslim school board.

On May 20, 2017, Hurley met with Discovery’s chairman of the board of directors, Samuel Master. The complaint states Hurley told Master at this meeting that the prayer room next to Zaman’s office had to be removed along with the other Islamic items as it was illegal and violated the separation of church and state.  Master told Hurley he would look into it after Ramadan because it was important that the room be up for the Muslim holy month where prayer and fasting takes place.

Zaman is not listed as a defendant in the case and is not a member of the school board.

Court documents state shortly after meeting with Master, Hurley was dismissed from his position as Executive Director of Discovery Charter School. The lawsuit claims the school’s board held an unexpected meeting on June 17 where Hurley’s performance was evaluated during a closed session. Following the discussion, a motion was proposed and seconded to vote on renewing Hurley’s contract. Master, along with two other board members, Tamir Sharaf El Din and Ahmed Adam voted against renewing Hurley’s contract, resulting in his termination.

The Pioneer Press reports that after Hurley was terminated, parents of the school rallied to save his job and demanded to meet with school board members. According to the Pioneer Press, parents have continually raised concerns about how Discovery is run and claim its board members do not communicate well with the school’s community. Parents also raised concerns that too many leaders of Discovery have ties to the troubled and now-defunct TiZA.

The Muslim American Society of Minnesota, which shares space with Discovery Charter School  is  “a charitable, religious, social, cultural, educational, and non-profit organization” according to its website. The United Arab Emirates designated the Muslim American Society a terrorist organization along with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in 2014.

As Executive Director of MASM, Zaman has appeared at several high profile Islamic events in the Twin Cities including the swearing-in of Minnesota’s first Muslim State Rep. Ilhan Omar (DFL-60B) in January 2017 and the August 5 explosion at the Dar al Farooq mosque in Bloomington, Minnesota. Despite lack of evidence regarding the explosion, Zaman told the media that morning, “The Muslim American Society of America condemns this arson and attack.” The MASM offered a $10,000 reward for information “leading to the arrest and conviction of the arsonists responsible.” The investigation into the Dar al Farooq explosion is still ongoing.

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