The Alabama Education Association has filed a lawsuit through its members and affiliate in Washington County against Soner Tarim, a Texas-based man seeking to open a charter school in rural southwest Alabama.
Tarim is the CEO of Unity School Services and was the founder of Harmony Schools, a charter school network in Texas.
The lawsuit claims Tarim engaged in fraudulent conduct to conceal the extent of his involvement with the non-profit organization that is allegedly behind the creation of Woodland Prep, a charter school located in Washington County.
The lawsuit also claims Tarim misrepresented the level of community support for the school and is advertising illegally in Mississippi in an attempt to attract enough students to be able to open the school.
The opening of Woodland Prep was delayed for the upcoming school year after Tarim was unable to complete construction of the school and failed to secure sufficient enrollment. The school was originally set to open in the fall with grades K through 7th and add a grade level each year to eventually become a pre K through 12th grade school. A one year extension was granted by the Alabama Public Charter School Commission to delay the opening of the school.
The National Association of Charter School Authorizers found Tarim’s application to approve the school “insufficient in all areas” and was not approved. The management plan for Woodland failed to meet basic standards for approval in any of the plan areas reviewed by NACSA.
AEA President Sherry Tucker said that the association is not against charter schools. Rather, they are against “bad” charter schools.
“AEA has been and will continue to work cooperatively with charter schools organized by true non-profits led by educators with the goal of increasing opportunities for Alabama’s children,” Tucker said. “At the same time, AEA will continue the fight against those who would divert funds from Alabama’s public schools to out-of-state business interests.”
The creation of Woodland Prep has caused controversy throughout Washington County, with reports of threats against supporters of the school, an online petition against the charter school with over 1,600 signatures and fears surrounding Tarim’s nationality and Muslim faith.
AEA Associate Executive Director Theron Stokes said that, based on reports, it is clear the group who applied for a charter school application for Woodland Prep is “nothing but a front for Tarim.”
“He (Tarim) got a taste for Alabama taxpayer money through LEAD Academy in Montgomery and has decided he wants to franchise corporate charter schools,” Stokes said. “But the citizens of Washington County have risen up to fight the diversion of funds from a school system that, despite the odds, is thriving and succeeding. That is why contractors walked off the construction site, why he’s advertising in Mississippi to get students, and why we are taking this step – to support our members and our local association in their fight.”
The AEA will hold a press conference today at 3:30 p.m. to discuss further details of the lawsuit against Tarim.