CHATOM, Ala. (WALA) – On paper, Woodland Preparatory School soon will open in a brand-new bu…
CHATOM, Ala. (WALA) — A controversial charter school Friday got hit with a lawsuit accusing organizers of fraud.
The president of the Washington County school board, a pair of school system employers and the Washington County Education Association filed the five-count lawsuit against the board of the planned Woodland Preparatory School and Soner Tarim, a Texas businessman who would run the school. The suit also named Tarim’s company, Unity School Services.
The suit seeks to prevent Woodland Prep from opening and a court order blocking taxpayer funds from going to it.
“The community is extremely upset about it; the overwhelming majority are against it,” said Tom Loper, an attorney representing the plaintiffs.
Tarim did not immediately return a call seeking comment. Woodland Prep issued a statement denying the allegations and accusing the teachers union of a “smear” campaign based on Tarim’s Muslim faith.
“While AEA and their henchmen continue to attack Dr. Tarim on his faith they never mention that the board members of Woodland Prep are practicing Christians,” the statement reads. “They have pushed their smears by suggesting that, because of his faith, we as parents would somehow turn our children over for some radical indoctrination which is beyond ridiculous and highly offensive.”
Charter schools are public schools that operate outside the control of local school boards and have greater flexibility to experiment. In Alabama, charter schools can get permission to operate either from local school boards or the Alabama Public Charter School Commission.
That commission approved the application of Washington County Students First for Woodland Prep last year, despite the conclusion by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers that the application “did not meet the standard for approval.”
The school was supposed to open this month, but Washington County Students First sought and received a one-year delay after failing to hit its enrollment target.
The lawsuit filed Friday accuses Tarim of misrepresenting himself both to Texas and Alabama education agencies.
“It’s like a reverse checklist of everything wrong that he was supposed to do,” Loper told FOX10 News.
The civil complaint alleges that Tarim is more than just a hired hand but initiated the effort to establish the charter school and controls all aspects of its operation.
“There is no real plan to hold Defendant Tarim accountable because, for all intents and purposes, Defendant Tarim, Woodland Prep, and Defendant WCSF are one in the same,” the suit states.
The plaintiffs allege:
- That the defendants misrepresented Tarim’s true role in the project.
- That the defendants fraudulently misrepresented local community interest and support for the school.
- That the plaintiffs unlawfully solicited Mississippi residents in an attempt to boost enrollment.
Woodland Prep said in its statement that it was frustration over the quality of existed schools, not Tarim, that motivated the push for a charter school. It stated that Washington County Students First has targeted Alabama residents who currently send their kids to Mississippi schools and has not solicited Mississippi residents.
“For all this talk about opposition, our observation has been it remains with teachers and union bosses who fear a loss of jobs and dues as a result of providing school choice to the children of Washington County,” the statement reads.
The suit asks a judge to rule that only Alabama residents may enroll in a charter school; to void the Woodland Prep charter contract; to order Washington County Students First to withdraw its application; and to prohibit them from applying for a startup charter school.
Updated at 2:33 p.m. to reflect comments by Woodland Prep.