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Convicted Murderer Working On Staff Of Ohio Voucher School.

A convicted murderer and drug dealer has been working on the staff of a private Islamic school that is receiving taxpayer funding under Ohio's voucher program, a newspaper investigation has uncovered.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported in July that the Islamic Academy School of Arts and Sciences had hired Judah Shurney, 68, as a historian and lecturer. Shurney was convicted of first-degree murder for a 1964 barroom shooting and served 10 years of a life sentence. In 1987, he was convicted of selling marijuana to an undercover police officer and served 18 months behind bars.

The newspaper reported that the Islamic Academy operates out of a decrepit building with broken windows and unhealthy levels of lead in the peeling paint. The building has no working fire alarm and is able to stay open only because staff members have agreed to patrol the facility every 30 minutes and look for fires.

The Plain Dealer also reported that the school has not given students mandatory proficiency tests and has lagged in turning in mandated paperwork. As a result, its diplomas are not recognized by the state. Nevertheless, the school received $268,000 in taxpayer money since 1996.

"This is your worst nightmare" said State Sen. C.J. Prentiss, a voucher opponent. "But it's also predictable in that we don't have the kind of oversight that we need."

The Islamic Academy is one of five private schools taking part in the voucher program that have yet to complete state-mandated paperwork and whose buildings have not passed safety inspections. The schools have received about $1 million in state funding anyway.

Government officials have promised to crack down on the abuses. After the newspaper story, Ohio Gov. Bob Taft (R) sent a memo to education officials ordering them to make recommendations to close "any loopholes which may exist" and strengthen "state regulation and oversight."

But for some parents, the governor's action has come too late. LaRuth Jackson pulled her son JayVeante out of the Islamic Academy's first grade after she realized he was not learning to read. Jackson said she became suspicious of the school when she dropped her son off one winter morning and noticed that the classroom was so cold she could see her breath.

"If I knew it was going to be like this, I would have never let him go there," Jackson said. "I blame everything on me. If my son has to repeat first grade, it's because of my bad judgment. I made a bad choice -- a real bad choice."

Days later the Plain Dealer reported that another voucher school, Golden Christian Academy, was offering children instruction almost exclusively through videos. An inspection of the school also found unsafe conditions, such as exposed electrical wires.

State education officials said they plan to remove the school from the voucher program. That decision drew a protest from Golden Christian Academy officials. "We're the only video school in Cleveland, so I would hate for it to disappear," said Sharon Golden, the school's director. "We are trying to build it up into something great."

Golden Christian Academy has received nearly $150,000 in state funding since 1997. It instructs children using a series of videos and workbooks produced by the Pensacola Christian Academy. The Pensacola Academy says its teachers are "dedicated to serving the Lord through Christian education."
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Publication:Church & State
Geographic Code:1U3OH
Date:Sep 1, 1999
Previous Article:Americans United Challenges Ohio Voucher Plan In Federal Court.
Next Article:Texas Gov. Bush Touts `Charitable Choice' Aid To Churches.

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