- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 31, 2008

The director of a Saudi-funded Islamic school in Northern Virginia accused of promoting religious intolerance has been convicted of failing to report suspected child abuse.

Abdalla I. al-Shabnan, director of the Islamic Saudi Academy, was fined $500 Wednesday after admitting that he failed to inform authorities about suspected sexual abuse of a 5-year-old girl who attended the school’s Fairfax campus. The main campus is in Alexandria.

As part of a plea bargain, prosecutors dropped an obstruction of justice charge, which could have carried up to a year in jail. A trial had been scheduled for Aug. 1.

The charges against Mr. al-Shabnan provided fuel to the school’s critics, who say it teaches an intolerant brand of Islam in line with the Wahhabite form of the religion prevalent in the Saudi kingdom.

According to court papers, the girl made comments that led her teacher to suspect the girl’s father might be sexually abusing her.

The teacher and school principal filed a report to Mr. al-Shabnan, but he didn’t believe the girl. He advised the girl’s parents to put her into counseling, according to a police affidavit.

State law requires school authorities to report claims of child abuse within 72 hours of learning of the allegation.

Police also said in court papers that Mr. al-Shabnan, 52, had a report of the girl’s complaint deleted from a school computer.

Mr. al-Shabnan, of McLean, and school officials did not return phone calls seeking comment Wednesday, nor did Mr. al-Shabnan’s attorney, Robert C. Whitestone.

School officials have countered allegations of intolerance by saying they modified textbooks and religious courses to delete intolerant material.

However, a federal commission issued a report last month stating that even the academy’s revised textbooks contain numerous hateful passages. One passage said it is permissible for Muslims to kill adulterers and converts from Islam, while other passages state that “the Jews conspired against Islam and its people” and that Muslims are permitted to take the lives and property of those deemed “polytheists.”

A regional accrediting body said earlier this month that it was reviewing the school’s status in light of the commission’s report and Mr. al-Shabnan’s arrest.

Fairfax County officials have said it’s up to the State Department to decide if the school can continue running. But the State Department has said that operations at the school - which sits on land leased by the county - remain a local issue.

County spokesman Jeremy Lasich said Mr. al-Shabnan’s plea would not affect the lease.

“Those are two unrelated things,” he said, referring to the curriculum controversy and the child-abuse reporting case.

Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican, sent a third letter Wednesday to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urging her to more actively investigate what’s being taught at the school.

The school serves about 900 students in grades K-12 at its two campuses.

Andrea Lafferty - executive director of the Traditional Values Coalition, a conservative advocacy group that has been critical of the school - said the $500 fine amounts to a slap on the wrist.

“His fine wasn’t much more than an HOV (traffic) violation,” she said. “That’s pretty outrageous for failure to report child abuse.”

Staff writer Gary Emerling contributed to this report.

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