Va. county extends lease to Saudi Academy

Fairfax, USA - Fairfax County supervisors voted to continue leasing property to a private Islamic school funded by the Saudi government that its critics have accused of fostering intolerance.

The Islamic Saudi Academy leases its flagship campus in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County for about $2.2 million a year.

The unanimous vote by the county's Board of Supervisors extends the lease by one year, through June 2009.

The county has leased the land to ISA since 1989, but the lease faced increased scrutiny this year following the recommendation of a federal commission that the academy be shut down.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom issued a report in October that broadly criticized the Saudi educational system, with specific criticism aimed at the Islamic Saudi Academy, which serves nearly 900 students in grades K-12.

The commission urged the State Department to take steps to shut down the academy until it could prove its curriculum was not intolerant. The terms of the academy's lease with the county give the State Department power to terminate the lease, according to county officials.

Critics of the Saudi system say the schools, including the academy, use textbooks that promote hatred against Jews, Christians and Shiite Muslims. Academy officials say their curriculum is tolerant of all faiths, and that they have modified Saudi texts that occasionally have used harsh language in describing religious differences.