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Board OKs contentious Islamic school expansion in Virginia

Class March 4, 1998
Web posted at: 1:05 p.m. EST (1805 GMT)

LEESBURG, Virginia (CNN) -- The Loudoun County, Virginia, Board of Supervisors voted Wednesday to approve a controversial plan by Saudi Arabia to build an Islamic school, despite strong local opposition.

The board voted 7-2 in favor of the proposal. The two supervisors who opposed it cited problems with zoning and the policies and practices of the Saudi Arabian government, which supports the school.

The 3,500-student Islamic Saudi Academy will replace a 1,200-student campus in Mount Vernon, Virginia, which the Saudi government says is no longer large enough.

The proposal to erect the school on a 100-acre site near Ashburn, Virginia, was loudly denounced by many residents, some of whom feared the institution would attract and harbor terrorists. They also argued that it would tie up traffic and tax local emergency-service resources.


Supporters said the school and its students would be like any other in the United States and that fears over the $50 million project were based on unfounded beliefs about Muslims, Arabs and terrorism.

"It's ignorance, and it's really not knowing what's out there," said the academy's Heather McDonald.

Anthony Nozolli, a consultant to the school, added: "It's just a school that follows a normal Virginia curriculum."

The kindergarten- through 12th-grade institution serves Muslim youths from 28 nations and the United States.

"I'm a little concerned about human rights abuses" in Saudi Arabia, said James Ahlemann, a pastor at the Christian Fellowship Church who led the fight against the new school.

"Saudi Arabia persecutes, imprisons and kills Christians, Jews and other faiths. I don't believe the Saudi Arabian government has the right to enjoy favored status while they're killing people," contended Ahlemann, whose church is near the new school property.

Correspondent Kyoko Altman contributed to this report.


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