Kenilworth charter school, subject of apparent FBI inquiry, has ties to Turkish education
BY DIANA SAMUELS
From NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
NEW ORLEANS—FBI and Kenilworth Science and Technology Charter School officials aren’t saying why the FBI converged on the Baton Rouge school’s campus Wednesday evening, carting off boxes.
But the school has ties to a controversial education movement inspired by a Turkish Muslim scholar, Fethullah Gulen. And other schools connected with that movement have reportedly been investigated by the FBI.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported in 2011 that the FBI was investigating whether employees of charter schools affiliated with the Gulen movement were kicking back part of their salaries, funded by taxpayers, to the Turkish Muslim movement of “Hizmet.” The Inquirer reported the investigation was “nationwide,” but coordinated by prosecutors in Pennsylvania, where Gulen lives.
Kenilworth’s ties to the Gulen movement aren’t direct or publicly advertised. Kenilworth Superintendent Tevfik Eski has previously denied to NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune any connection between Gulen and the school.
But in 2011, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune reported that Pelican Educational Foundation, the nonprofit group that runs Kenilworth, does have various connections to the movement.
For example, Karen Fontenot, vice president of Pelican’s board, spoke in 2010 at a conference on the Gulen movement and said, “I’m on the advisory board of the schools –the Gulen schools in Louisiana.”
The Pelican Educational Foundation also oversaw Abramson Science and Technology Charter School in New Orleans, which was abruptly shut down by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in 2011. Among other issues at Abramson, the state was investigating a reported bribery attempt where the state’s academic advisor for charter schools was on Abramson’s campus, and was approached by an executive of a construction company, Atlas Texas Construction and Trading. The Atlas executive offered the state official $25,000 to “help fix this problem,” potentially referring to complaints made about the school by a group of teachers.
Pelican disavowed any association with Atlas. But Atlas had done building work at an Oklahoma charter school that was led by Mustafa Guvercin, who later went on to be principal at Abramson.
Atlas is described as affiliated with Gulen in a classified State Department cable that was published by Wikileaks.
There is no indication that Gulen schools have been pushing a religious doctrine in the classroom. Gulen also emphasizes the need for peace, distancing himself from any hard-line Muslim sect and terrorism.
Pelican has run Kenilworth under a charter with the Recovery School District since 2009, and its contract was just renewed for another five years.
FBI officials would only say Wednesday that the issue is not a matter of public safety.