A candidate for an Antelope Valley school board Tuesday accused a local Republican political action committee of being a "hate group" after the organization placed a newspaper advertisement accusing him of operating a public charter school that teaches "Islamic principles."
The candidate, Kamal al-Khatib, 41, is the volunteer executive director of the K-8 Guidance Charter School, which shared its campus with a Palmdale mosque until this fall, when it began renting space on a public school campus.
Al-Khatib -- one of 11 candidates for two open seats on the Antelope Valley Union High School District board -- said the charter school follows a secular curriculum.
The half-page ad, which appeared in Sunday's Antelope Valley Press, was paid for by the Lancaster-based Antelope Valley Republican Assembly Committee.
"It is our belief that Kamal Al-Khatib is Owner/Operator of a Charter School teaching Islamic principles," the ad stated. "This elementary school is in Palmdale. It is funded with our tax dollars. Kamal Al-Khatib now wants to use our tax dollars to create a similar charter high school. And that is wrong!"
Al-Khatib denied he was trying to start a religious charter high school. He said he was particularly vexed by the charges because he is a registered Republican and even received an award from the National Republican Congressional Committee.
After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Al-Khatib said, "We're trying to educate everybody that Muslims are part of the community, that we're here to stay.... This only creates hate in other people."
The treasurer of the committee that bought the ad, Patrick W. Sileo, stood by its message Tuesday, saying the charter school's supporters originally approached the Palmdale School District with plans for "an Islamic school."
Al-Khatib said the school originally planned to offer religious instruction before the start of the regular school day, but eventually dropped those plans and opened in November 2001, touting a secular curriculum.
School district officials later made surprise visits to the school to ensure it was not violating 1st Amendment principles, and Al-Khatib said the school was never cited for any violation.
Sileo is also president of the Antelope Valley Republican Assembly, one of the area's most influential political organizations. He called the ad "retaliation" for a mailer he said was distributed by a group called Up With Palmdale that unfairly criticized one of Al-Khatib's opponents, former Lancaster Sheriff's Capt. Tom Pigott.
Al-Khatib said he had no connection to that group.