FBI RAIDS TURKISH GULEN CHARTER SCHOOL IN LA
by Donna Garner
12.12.13 — To view the FBI raid of the Gulen charter school in East Baton Rouge, please go to the following link on WBRZ.com. The Gulen charter schools are tied to Fethullah Gulen who is an Islamist imam. Kenilworth Science and Technology School is connected to the Pelican Foundation, Cosmos Foundation in Texas, Atlas Texas Construction and Trading (a Houston-based contractor), Harmony Charters in Texas, and to other Gulen/Turkish entities around the United States and Turkey: http://www.wbrz.com/videos/fbi-raid-another-scandal-for-charter-school-company/
12.11.13 — To read the full story about the FBI raid on the Gulen charter school, please read further: “FBI Raid Another Scandal for Gulen Charter School Company”
EXCERPTS FROM THIS ARTICLE:
BATON ROUGE- Wednesday evening’s FBI raid on a charter school in East Baton Rouge is the latest item in a list of scandals involving the organization that holds the charter for the Kenilworth Science and Technology School.
Pelican Educational Foundation runs the school [and also Abramson] and has ties to a family from Turkey. The organization lost its school in New Orleans amid allegations of sexual misconduct among students that prompted a state investigation on campuses in the Crescent City and in Baton Rouge. It has also faced lawsuits and allegations from teachers about bad learning environments.
“It was an atmosphere where there was a double standard,” one former teacher told WBRZ News 2 in an investigation into the school in EBR. Former teachers were not happy with how things were handled when they spoke with a station reporter two years ago.
No one was ever charged in the sex allegations a school spokesperson pointed out Wednesday as federal investigators moved through the campus collecting items, putting them in boxes and then loading them into a van.
…The school receives about $5,000,000 in local, state, and federal tax money. In 2012, the Pelican group was accused of improperly handling money by the Legislative Auditor. A report found about $8600 was improperly used to buy gifts for students who scored high on LEAP tests.
…About the same time as allegations and lawsuits began dealing with Pelican charter schools, a BESE member took an improper trip on behalf of another Turkish organization. Linda Johnson, who is no longer on BESE, was fined for breaking the law by the ethics board. She got an all expenses paid trip to Turkey.
Kenilworth Science and Technology School will be open Thursday.
Here is what I, Donna Garner, wrote on 8.6.11. Unfortunately, some of the URL’s that I used for documentation are no longer accessible:
“Latest Stories on Gulen Charter Schools in Louisiana”
By Donna Garner
Pelican Foundation in Louisiana is tied to Cosmos Foundation in Texas. Atlas Texas (a Houston-based contractor) has won numerous contracts from Cosmos Foundation which is tied to the Pelican Education Foundation that runs Abramson (New Orleans) and Kenilworth (Baton Rouge).
It was the Vice-President for Atlas Texas who allegedly tried to bribe Folwell Dunbar, an official with the Louisiana State Department of Education, to cover up the problems at Abramson.
7.22.11 – “Abramson Charter Group’s Ties to Gulen Movement Come to Surface” — http://www.nola.com/education/index.ssf/2011/07/abramson_charter_groups_ties_t.html
Karen Fontenot rose to address the room last year at a conference on the Gulen movement, a strain of Islamic thinking inspired by the Turkish Muslim scholar Fethullah Gulen. She recounted how she got involved in the movement back in 2005 and made reference to her role as a board member for a group of charter schools associated with it.
“I’m on the advisory board of the schools — the Gulen schools in Louisiana,” she explained.
Indeed, Fontenot is vice president of the board at the Pelican Educational Foundation, a nonprofit group that runs Abramson Science and Technology Charter School in eastern New Orleans and Kenilworth Science and Technology Charter School in Baton Rouge. Pelican is now under investigation by the Louisiana Department of Education because of numerous complaints from students and teachers at Abramson, as well as an alleged attempt by someone associated with the group to bribe a state official last year.
Pelican’s CEO, Tevfik Eski, has denied any connection between Gulen and the foundation’s schools.
But the links that Pelican shares with the Gulen movement, as well as Turkish-run businesses and charter schools in other states, are at least partially out in the open, in video clips and documents available on the Internet as well as records made public by the state.
No evidence has surfaced to suggest that Abramson or Kenilworth have ever pushed a religious doctrine in the classroom. But the connection to Gulen offers one more clue as to why an executive from a Texas contractor would have turned up on Abramson’s campus last year, and why she would have allegedly offered a state official a $25,000 bribe.
Ties to Louisiana
The executive, Inci Akpinar, from Atlas Texas Construction and Trading, was named in a 2010 memo written by Folwell Dunbar, who served as the state’s academic adviser for charter schools until being fired this week. In his note, Dunbar described an unexpected meeting during a visit to Abramson with representatives from Atlas and a Houston-based charter school operator called the Cosmos Foundation, another group with links to the Gulen movement.
Dunbar was visiting the school to check out allegations made by a group of whistle-blowing teachers. He wrote that during a one-on-one meeting at a Starbucks the next day, Akpinar offered “twenty-five thousand dollars to fix this problem: twenty thousand for you and five for me.”
Atlas has not returned several messages seeking comment on the allegation. Pelican has denied the bribery attempt and disavowed any association with Atlas.
But the company’s contracting history in Texas and other states points back to Louisiana. Atlas has done numerous jobs in the past for the Cosmos Foundation, which in turn has a support contract with Abramson, receiving a fee set at 5 percent of the school’s state financing.
And among the projects that Atlas touts on its website is the gymnasium at a school called the Dove Science Academy in Oklahoma. That school was led by Mustafa Guvercin in 2005 and 2006, before he moved on to become the principal at Abramson when it opened in 2007, according to a copy of his resume.
Cable describes tension
Atlas is also described as affiliated with Gulen in a classified State Department cable from an American diplomat in Istanbul, which was published online by the anti-secrecy group Wikileaks. The connection between Atlas and Gulen was first reported by The New York Times.
Gulen himself is now in his 70s and has lived in the United States since 1999. Though Gulen has denied any claim as a leader, members of the movement he has inspired have made it one of their priorities to start and finance “predominantly secular schools and other educational-related services,” Jones noted.
…Fontenot, the Pelican board member, appears in a video clip posted to the website of a 2010 conference titled, “Mapping the Gulen Movement.”
A professor at Southeastern Louisiana University, Fontenot describes becoming involved with the movement in 2005, when she presented a paper titled “M. Fetullah Gulen’s Neo-Sufism” during a conference at Rice University in Houston. The presentation is listed in a copy of her curriculum vitae that was attached to Abramson’s charter application in Louisiana.
Though Fontenot did not respond to a request for an interview on Gulen, she explained in the clip, “I’m not a Muslim and I’m not a Turk, but I believe I’m a member of the Hizmet movement,” using a Turkish word for public service, a principal that stands at the center of Gulen’s teachings.
…But several have described administrators offering school-sponsored trips to Turkey for both teachers and students. One teacher who took up the offer received pamphlets on the Gulen movement, which outline Gulen’s biography and stress his peaceful message, taking pains to distance the movement from any type of hard-line or violent Muslim sect.
Here is what I, Donna Garner, wrote on 7.22.11. Some of the URL’s that I used for documentation are no longer accessible:
“Wrong Person Takes the Fall — Another Gulen Situation”
By Donna Garner
Andrew Vanacore, a reporter for the Louisiana Times-Picayune, wrote another disturbing article yesterday about the Gulen Turkish charter schools in his state. It seems that Folwell Dunbar, who worked for the Louisiana State Department of Education and who blew the whistle on the terrible conditions at the Turkish Abramson Science and Technology Charter School, has been fired.
Here is a summary up to this point:
Abramson Science and Technology Charter School is tied to Pelican Education Foundation which is tied to the Cosmos Foundation. Cosmos operates 36 Turkish Gulen charter schools in Texas. Cosmos is tied to Fethullah Gulen who is an Islamist imam.
Atlas Texas Construction and Trading is a Turkish company in Houston, Texas, that has won many contracts from Cosmos Foundation. It was an executive from Atlas Texas who allegedly tried to bribe Folwell Dunbar with $25,000 to get him to cover up the serious problems at Abramson.
Today we learn that Folwell Dunbar and his boss at the charter school office have been fired by the Louisiana Superintendent of Schools.
Evidently after Hurricane Katrina, the charter school movement really blossomed in New Orleans, and over half the children in New Orleans now attend charter schools. A board (BESE) is charged with handling the charter schools.
Reading between the lines, it sounds to me as if Folwell Dunbar has been designated as “the fall guy.” He dutifully reported the alleged bribe and the many problems he had found at Abramson on his two different site visits. Folwell gave his report to his two superiors (Kevin Guitterez and Chris Meyer) who then reported to their boss, Paul Pastorek, the Louisiana State Superintendent of Schools. It appears that Pastorek gave the BESE board a superficial version of the Abramson problems and then left the Department for a job in private industry.
Now that the alleged rape at Abramson has been discovered and the bad press is mounting, the acting Louisiana State Superintendent, Ollie Tyler, decided to fire the whistleblower (Folwell Dunbar) since Pastorek, who is probably the one who let the incidents at Abramson fall through the cracks, has flown the coop.
I believe that Folwell Dunbar can surely find a more supportive place to work, but it does not seem fair to me that the whistleblower is the one who got fired while the people who overlooked this Turkish school’s foibles is allowed to escape scrutiny. I suggest that BESE take a long-and-hard look at all the Turkish schools tied to Gulen/Cosmos/Pelican/Atlas.
After all, these Gulen schools are using our taxpayers’ dollars and need to be scrutinized very carefully particularly because of the many allegations that are surfacing all around the country — e.g., a system of questionable test scores, lies and intimidation from the Turkish charter school administrators, free trips to Turkey with an emphasis on the Gulen Movement, charter school teachers from Turkey who speak very little English, indoctrination of students into Turkish culture and theopolitical ties, cheating on science projects, financial ties across state lines among Turkish entities, etc.
Here is what I, Donna Garner, wrote on 7.17.11. Again, some of the URL’s that I used for documentation are no longer accessible:
“Another Turkish Charter School in Trouble”
By Donna Garner
Here is yet another example of a Turkish charter school in trouble. This article (posted below) describes Abramson Charter School in New Orleans, Louisiana. As you read this article, you will see how “murky” yet interconnected these various Turkish schools really are as they move money, power, and influence across state lines.
Atlas Texas (a Houston-based contractor) has won many contracts from Cosmos Foundation which is tied to the Pelican Education Foundation that runs Abramson and another charter school in Baton Rouge.
Both Cosmos and Pelican have disavowed any official religious links, though Abramson teachers on a school-sponsored trip to Turkey received pamphlets on the Gulen movement. The literature emphasizes Gulen’s peaceful message and a commitment to serve ‘people regardless of faith.’ (The Times-Picayune, 7.15.11)
It was the Vice-President for Atlas Texas who tried to bribe Folwell Dunbar, an official with the Louisiana State Department of Education, to cover up the problems at Abramson.
Below are the three supportive documents that the reporter for The Times-Picayune used to write his article [no longer accessible]. These documents contain very disturbing details from both teachers and students at Abramson that are similar to other allegations from Gulen charter schools all around the country — a system of questionable test scores, lies and intimidation from the Turkish charter school administrators, free trips to Turkey with an emphasis on the Gulen Movement, charter school teachers from Turkey who speak very little English, indoctrination of students into Turkish culture and theopolitical ties, cheating on science projects, financial ties across state lines among Turkish entities, etc.
7.15.11 – “Records Show Glaring Faults at School with Ties to Turkish Charter Network in Texas” – by Andrew Vanacore, reporter for The Times-Picayune — http://www.nola.com/education/index.ssf/2011/07/state_shuts_down_abramson_char.html
EXCERPTS FROM THIS ARTICLE:
…That an executive from Atlas Texas, a Houston-based contractor, would speak on the school’s behalf points to the somewhat opaque connections that link Abramson with other schools and businesses founded by Turkish expatriates. Atlas has won numerous contracts in the past from a Texas-based school operator called the Cosmos Foundation.
Cosmos does not run Abramson, but it has a wide-ranging support contract with the Pelican Education Foundation, the local nonprofit that operates both Abramson and Kenilworth Science & Technology Charter School in Baton Rouge.
…Many have wondered about the foreign instructors at the school who appear to be of Turkish origin. State records and interviews show some had trouble communicating in English, which has led to speculation that the school may be taking advantage of a visa program intended to bring highly skilled workers into the country.
Similar allegations have cropped up in other states where the Cosmos Foundation operates. The group runs a charter network called the Harmony Schools in Texas, where they’ve encountered unfounded accusations that they somehow promote Islamic extremism, largely because of an interest by some of the group’s leaders in the movement begun by a Turkish religious scholar named Fethullah Gulen.
Both Cosmos and Pelican have disavowed any official religious links, though Abramson teachers on a school-sponsored trip to Turkey received pamphlets on the Gulen movement…
…Mary Elise DeCoursey arrived at Abramson as a first-year TFA instructor in the fall of 2009. The school assigned her to teach 8th and 11th grade English courses along with a journalism elective.
But something odd happened around October, DeCoursey said: the teacher next door, who taught a Turkish language course, disappeared.
The instructor never came back but students continued to show up for the course, sitting unattended in the classroom day after day. Several times, DeCoursey said, she called down to the office and was told that someone would be up shortly. No one ever came, a pattern that she said persisted for months.
Meanwhile, the rumors about science projects had reached her as well. One of her students complained that she had finished her own science fair entry only to be handed a different project by school officials — one “that could win,” DeCoursey said.
…DeCoursey said the only time the school’s special education instructor intervened in her class was after the school’s principal asked her which students might be in danger of failing the state’s LEAP test. Standardized test results are a major component of school performance scores, which ultimately determine whether a schools is allowed to continue taking in students.
Growing alarmed, DeCoursey and three other teachers who shared her concerns began keeping written records of what they saw, asking students to document similar instances of unethical behavior.
Finally, during a birthday get-together at the wine bar Delachaise, one of the teachers, Charm Baker, broke down in tears over conditions at the school, DeCoursey said. They decided that night to get in touch with the state.
In an email dated Feb. 2, 2010, and signed by DeCoursey, Baker and two others, they wrote to Kenneth Campell, then head of the state’s charter office: “Though we are fully aware of the significant amount of autonomy given to charter schools, we are now concerned that this autonomy is being abused to the point that students are being forced to engage in unethical acts.”
Four teachers at the Abramson Science & Technology Charter School reported a ‘general feeling of fear’ among the school’s staff because of what appeared to be retaliation against teachers, parents and students who had spoken up about the school’s practices.
They also reported a “general feeling of fear” among the school’s staff because of what appeared to be retaliation against teachers, parents and students who had spoken up about the school’s practices in the past.
Seeming to confirm those fears, the school fired Baker as the state’s audit got under way that spring, according to DeCoursey and state records.
But the state investigation appeared to back up much of what the teachers had written in their note.
A team of at least seven people — independent experts as well as officials from the department of education and the state-run Recovery School District — visited the school and recorded their observations in written reports.
Though Abramson advertises a special focus on science and technology, state officials found lab materials “still boxed, with most of the instruments still packed and sealed” after two years sitting at the school.
Robert Daigle, an educational consultant who visited Abramson wrote, “It was the cleanest science equipment I had ever seen in my 21 years as a science teacher. I speculate lack of use kept them so clean. And this was in the science lab that all teachers go to for experiments.”
Another outside expert who visited Abramson, Barbara Cassara, reported that several students confirmed they had done little or none of the work that went into their science projects: “One child indicated that her mother would not let her participate in the off-campus fair because she had not done the work herself. Another said the teacher did her brother’s project.”
A group of ninth-graders, asked at random how their grades were, all responded by saying they had straight A’s or B’s, and said they felt the state’s standardized exams were “easy.” Asked why, “they said that if you participated in the review, you would know what to do. They described practice on items that were very close to the items on the test.”
…The state audit also turned up a significant lack of resources for special-needs students.
Federal law requires that every student classified with a special need have an IEP, developed through observation and interviews.
…There were also complaints from teachers and students about the difficulty of communicating with some of the foreign staff.
One group of students apparently grew “animated” as they told state auditors that there were “many teachers in the school who did a poor job of communicating material to them because of poor language skills and poor teaching skills.” After an interview with one of the middle school math teachers, the state’s audit notes, “The teacher has poor English skills and is very difficult to understand.”
…Teachers who traveled to Turkey on an Abramson-sponsored trip brought back written materials about the Gulen Movement…
Still, Dunbar, the state’s academic advisor for charter schools, described a series of bizarre encounters as he and others carried out the audit that suggest a network of associations at Abramson extending beyond Louisiana.
When his team made its initial unplanned visit to the school, they were told the high school students would be leaving for a field trip. But students “indicated that they did not know about the trip,” Dunbar wrote, and “a few teachers said it was put together at the last minute. Team members suspect that it was done because of the review.”
On a follow-up visit to the school, Dunbar was told that representatives from both the Cosmos Foundation and Atlas Texas had arrived and wanted to meet with him.
“They proceeded to shower me with compliments, to the extent that it made me feel uncomfortable,” Dunbar wrote. Akpinar, the vice president from Atlas Texas, even contacted Dunbar after the meeting to see if they could get drinks that evening.
“I declined,” he wrote.
After persistent requests, Dunbar said he agreed to meet her at the Starbucks on Magazine Street, where Akpinar offered $25,000 to help “fix this problem,” Dunbar wrote. He recalled explaining that it would be a conflict of interest for a state official to take money from the school.
A spokeswoman for the state education department said Dunbar reported the incident to the New Orleans Police Department, which couldn’t find “hard evidence” to substantiate the incident.
…Redd said she encountered a 5-year-old student from her kindergarten class in a school bathroom, poised in what appeared to be a sexual position with another student who had stripped naked.
But she said she hit a wall when she took the incident to the school’s administration. She said the dean of students told her to give the child “the benefit of the doubt,” while the principal remarked that “we all know he’s goofy, anyway.” She said they told her to throw away the page-long write-up she had prepared on the incident and simply log it as a minor classroom disturbance. The dean of students, she said, promised to handle contacting the child’s parents and the authorities but never followed through.
When she caught her student pulling the same classmate into a supply closet, Redd said, the school’s guidance counselor finally called Child & Family Services and the parents, but neither were aware of a previous incident.
The principal at the time, Cunyet Dokmen, has left the school. But the current principal, Andrea Estavan, refuted Redd’s version of events, saying the school contacted the police and the child’s parents immediately after the first incident. Estavan said the school decided not to renew Redd’s contract because of poor classroom management, speculating that her allegations are retaliation.
Patrice Yarls, the dean of students, recalled a slightly different version of the incident. Yarls said that after questioning the students after the first encounter, the administration felt unsure of what had happened. She said the school did not call police after the first incident and could not remember whether parents had been contacted.