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Opinion | Washington County charter school opposition is about quality public schools, not one guy’s religion


The people in Washington County who oppose a planned charter school are not bigots. 

They’re not against the charter school because a Muslim guy is going to manage it. They aren’t all caught up in some anti-Muslim protest. 

They just don’t want the charter school. And they have very good reasons for not wanting the charter school. 

It’s a shame this has to be said, but it does. Because a reporter from printed a story on Sunday that, by using a single incident of religious bigotry (a letter to the editor), painted the entire opposition to Woodland Prep — the aforementioned charter school — as centered on religious bigotry and dirty tactics. 

It was one of the most unfair pieces of reporting that I can recall. 

Simple, basic facts were ignored. 

Like, just for starters, that the opposition — the very vocal, very engaged, very active opposition — began even before the people in Washington County knew who would manage the proposed charter school, much less that that guy would be Muslim. It began when people in the community first heard of meetings about the charter school. 

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The opposition was so quick and so vocal that a Washington County resident who works as a consultant with several school districts said she refused to attend more than one meeting, because she knew her public school friends would be angry. She knew it would cost her income. 

That’s how this ordeal got started. And, honestly, this isn’t a complicated story. 

Public school employees in Washington County, who know their system is on a shoestring budget, saw an outside threat to the system they were working hard to improve. And that system has improved — going from a D overall to a B. There are no failing schools. And students in Washington County can attend any school they wish. 

Those employees didn’t like their jobs being threatened by a charter school that — statistics show — will do no better at educating their children. So, they rallied the community behind them. And the community answered the call. 

They put pressure on business owners who backed the charter. They put pressure on teachers who threatened to jump ship to the charter. They put pressure on anyone who went to work on the charter site. 

Now, they’re not the mob. They didn’t break any arms or leave anyone sleeping with fishes. They just started a widespread boycott, encouraging all of their friends not to do business with people who did business with the charter school. 

Which, you know, is only a problem if the overwhelming majority of the Washington County community is against the charter school. 

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Turns out, despite the rhetoric from the Alabama Charter School Commission, the Washington County community is overwhelmingly against it. 

And really, if we care at all about education in this state, that’s the story that we should be focused on — how a community with a pretty good rural school system, where every school seems to be making progress, is being threatened by a government entity that promised to leave such districts alone. 

Because that’s right there in the charter school law that our lawmakers passed a few years ago. Approval of a charter school’s application is dependent upon a need in the district for a charter and upon the support of the community for that charter. 

Woodland Prep has neither. 

It was still approved. 

But then, following the charter school law isn’t exactly what the Charter School Commission does best. 

It also ignored promises, including one from Rep. Terri Collins who helped create the charter school bill, that Woodland Prep wouldn’t be allowed to continue if it failed to meet its enrollment projections in July. 

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Guess what? Woodland promised 150. It has less than 50. 

The Commission gave Woodland a year’s extension. 

The Commission also ignored the falsified original application, which cited as consultants people who had never agreed to do anything for Woodland Prep. At least two of those people contacted the Alabama State Department of Education and demanded that their names be removed from that application. 

Pfft, said the Commission. 

And then, when the management company became known, and it turned out to be Soner Tarim’s Unity School Services, well, there were other issues. Such Tarim’s connections to the Gulen Movement — connections that include his chain of charters in Texas being labeled by numerous news outlets as a financial front for the Gulen Movement. 

That’s how Tarim’s religion became an issue in this ordeal. Because he is closely tied to an organization that has been labeled a terrorist organization by Turkey — an organization that has used his schools to abuse the U.S. visa program. 

But no sweat. The Gulen folks paid for a lot of Alabama lawmakers to travel in style to Turkey. So, it’s all good. 

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Even when Woodland Prep’s application was essentially rejected by the national authorizers group that the Commission hired to review applications, it was still all good. The Commission just ignored that rejection and approved the application anyway. 

You see? This is why the people in Washington County are mad as hell. 

They’ve watched their school system and their livelihoods be threatened by a sham. They’ve watched lawmakers and supposed professionals skirt rules, flatly break laws and thumb their noses at them when they pointed out the unfairness of it all. 

They’re mad because they’ve got good reason to be mad. 

And bigotry has nothing to do with it.


Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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