Board OKs contentious Islamic school expansion in Virginia
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.