By Wyatt Goolsby
ODESSA - There's already some controversy surrounding the opening of a new charter school in Odessa. A West Texas group claims the Harmony Science Academy has ties to radical Islam. It's an allegation school officials are strongly denying. On Thursday, our NewsWest 9 crews went to an open house to get both sides of the story.
West Texas parents and students learned more about a new charter school set to open this fall in the old Dunlaps building on Grandview. Lisa Gryder is one of many parents who went to one of their open houses, heard the presentation, and decided the school just wasn't for her children. But that wasn't the end of the story.
"We get to the exit to pull out onto the street, and there was a couple standing on the side of the road and said they had some additional information about the school," Gryder explained.
So, the pair handed her a flyer that told her to dig a littler deeper. The flyer, put out by the newly formed West Texas Patriots, explained that the school and the Cosmos Foundation are linked with radical Islamic extremism. Michelle Fowler, who organized the group, said at first a new charter school in Odessa seemed like a great idea. Then, they started researching online.
"We started looking into the Cosmos Foundation," Fowler said. "It links back to an extreme Islamist Fethullah Gulen. In Turkey, he tried to overthrow his own government, and enforce the Sharia Law. There were charges brought against him in his own country. He voluntarily exiled himself to the United States."
On Thursday, Fowler and her group took their concerns right to the Harmony Public Schools Superintendent, based out of Houston. He told them their group has never endorsed radical Islam, and told them all their materials come with approval from the Texas Education Agency.
"We have no ties with any other organization," Dr. Soner Tarim explained. "We are a non-profit Cosmos Foundation that operates out of Houston, Texas. We have one of the largest and highest rated charter schools in the nation. Our schools our rated by U.S. News and World report as one of the best in the nation."
On Thursday, TEA officials told NewsWest 9 there have been no formal complaints even remotely related to radical Islam against Harmony Public Schools. Parents like Lisa Gryder said whether the accusations are true or not, she and many others are urging parents to do all their homework before making any important decision.
Members of the West Texas Patriots said they're just trying to make sure Odessans know and understand all of their research. They said if you want more information, they invite everyone to come out to their meeting Friday at San Jacinto Park at 7 pm.