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|VA: Saudi-Funded Academy Loses Accreditation|
|07/18/02 at 20:19:14|
|Muslim School Withdraws From Association |
Saudi-Funded Academy Loses Accreditation; Va. Agency Had Raised Questions
By Valerie Strauss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 11, 2002; Page A12
The Saudi Islamic Academy has withdrawn its membership from a respected association of private schools in Virginia and has lost its accreditation with the group after the organization asked questions about how the academy is funded and governed, sources close to the decision said.
Another accrediting group is also reviewing its relationship with the school, according to an organization official.
Since 1990, the school has touted its accreditation by the Virginia Association of Independent Schools and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which accredits more than 12,000 public and private schools in 11 states and Latin America. The school's Web site still says it is accredited by both.
But Sally Boese, executive director of the Virginia association, said, "The Islamic Saudi Academy is no longer a member of VAIS, as they withdrew their membership from our association effective June 30, 2002."
Accreditation means a school or school system meets certain standards of operation set by an independent organization, and it can imbue an institution with a certain legitimacy. Colleges often consider the school's accreditation status when reviewing students for admissions.
The Saudi academy educates about 1,300 students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade on two campuses in Northern Virginia, with a dual American and Middle Eastern curriculum. The school was founded in 1984 to educate the children of Saudi diplomats, and it also accepts other students. Muslim educators say the academy is unlike other Muslim schools in the United States, many of which struggle for resources, in part because it is heavily funded by Saudi Arabia.
Sources familiar with the decision said the Virginia accrediting agency became concerned that the school was not adhering to its standards on funding and governance and asked questions earlier this year. The association's standards require that the governing board be independent, that the administration be stable and that funding not come primarily from a single source.
The Saudi academy has in recent years had significant turnover in administration and teaching staff. It has a governing board that is headed by the Saudi ambassador to the United States and says much of its funding comes from the Saudi government. The ambassador, Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, used to send his children to the school but withdrew them a few years ago.
The director general of the academy, Ibrahim Abdul-Razak Al-Gosair, is in Saudi Arabia on an extended vacation and was not available for comment, said Abdulaziz Othman, the school's business manager. Othman said Al-Gosair is the only school official who is permitted to speak for the school and directed a caller to the Saudi Embassy.
Nail Al-Jubeir, deputy director of information at the Saudi Embassy, said he was not aware of the school's withdrawal from the Virginia association.
"We don't do the day-to-day running of the school," he said.
Al-Jubeir said the embassy views the school as independent because it runs its own affairs, though "it is part of the royal court."
Sources said that the association's board probably would have stripped accreditation from the school if it had not withdrawn, but that it had not met to discuss such a move.
The sources also said that some board members were concerned about aspects of the school's curriculum. The Washington Post in January reported that some Islamic studies classes at the school use Saudi Arabian textbooks that promote hatred of other religions. However, the curricular concerns were not part of the questioning that led to the withdrawal, sources said.
Earlier this year, B. Mont Bush, director of accreditation services for the Secondary and Middle School Commission of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, said he would be concerned if the school was teaching hatred.
When asked this week whether the school's accreditation was being questioned, he said the Virginia office "continues to monitor and review the accreditation status of the Islamic Saudi Academy." Schools are accredited on an annual basis, in December.
Some college admissions directors said a high school's accreditation was a factor in admissions decisions. "Accreditation is very helpful to us in that it gives us an across-the-board way of recognizing the quality of a curriculum in which a student has participated," said Andrew Flagel, admissions dean of George Mason University, which many Saudi academy graduates attend.
George Mason accepted 20 Saudi academy graduates this year, and 15 will attend this fall. Asked whether the loss of accreditation will affect its relationship with the academy, Flagel said, "We'll continue to evaluate each school on a case-by-case basis as these accreditation issues arise."
American University accepted nine graduates; three are attending, said Admissions Director Sharon M. Alston.
"If the student is admissible but is coming from a school that has lost its accreditation, we will provide the student with an opportunity to begin his or her studies at AU as a non-degree-seeking student," Alston said. After a year's work, the college will evaluate whether to grant a transfer to a degree track.
© 2002 The Washington Post Company
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