JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Leaders of a Jacksonville charter school that has come under scrutiny after some people tied it to a man wanted by the Turkish government have sent a letter to the city asserting they have no connection with the man.
A letter from the Turkish Consulate in Miami warned Jacksonville city leaders about Turkish rebel Fetullah Gulen, a man who has been linked to 130 charter schools across the country, including River City Science Academy on Beach Boulevard.
The growing Duval County charter school, which is on track to open a fourth campus in Mandarin, opened in Duval County in 2007 and was founded in part by a Turkish American, Dogan Tozoglu, who is now the school's executive director.
The BBC is reporting that Turkey's president is now pushing for all of Gulen's schools to be shut down globally as the nation continues to pressure President Barack Obama to extradite him to Turkey.
But River City Science Academy's founders told the city in a letter that they have no ties to Gulen, and parents are showing their support.
David Meyer put his four children at River City Science Academy, moving them from private school several years ago.
“It has been very positive,” Meyer said. “They're doing great. All my kids are doing well, so I am very happy.”
Meyer contacted the I-TEAM after seeing our story Friday that highlighted the letter from the Turkish Consulate in Miami that was sent to Jacksonville City Council President Lori Boyer and Mayor Lenny Curry, warning them about Imam Fetullah Gulen and his possible local ties.
Gulen is a Turkish-born activist who came to the U.S. for refuge.
Turkey’s president claims Gulen helped organize last month’s failed coup that left 241 people dead and nearly 1,500 injured.
The concerns over any possible ties between Gulen and River City Science Academy were enough for the City Council to hold two pending resolutions involving the school.
"We were surprised to receive the letter and are trying to understand the involvement, if any, locally,” Boyer said.
In a letter to Mayor Lenny Curry and Boyer, the executive Tozoglu wrote, “We ask for your support in denouncing such baseless and hateful allegations.” He said the school “is not owned, affiliated with or governed by any other organization.”
The academy’s leader said rumors had been swirling for years, and that “as soon as RCSA became aware of these allegations, it shared them with school district staff who determined they had no merit.”
“Trust me, at first I was a little bit concerned, so me and my wife, we did our homework,” Meyer said.
Meyer said after reading up on the allegations, he’s comfortable with the school’s leaders and doesn’t think they’ve done anything wrong. He said he doesn’t want the school to be shut down, no matter what Turkey’s president says.
“It would be a real disservice for the kids who live here and have the opportunity to attend this school,” Meyer said.
The mayor's office deferred comment to Duval County Public Schools. Superintendent Dr. Nikolai Vitti released this statement:
The school itself has been well run, supported by parents and the greater community, and enjoys a strong reputation in Jacksonville. Previous reviews have not generated any red flags. However, we are reviewing the matter closely to determine if an investigation will be conducted, as some of the possible financial connections are concerning."
The owners of the academy have invited News4Jax to their school to speak with parents, teachers and students.