The state education board yesterday approved a controversial new charter school in Saugus whose district will include Salem, Peabody, Danvers and Lynn.
The Pioneer Charter School of Science II is scheduled to open in August for grades seven, eight and nine. It plans to expand by one grade each year before reaching a maximum of 360 students in grades seven through 12.
The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved the school, which had received the recommendation of Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester, by a 6-4 vote.
The approval came despite concerns raised by teachers unions over the school’s possible ties to an Islamic movement led by Turkish scholar Fethullah Gulen.
In a letter sent to the state education board, teachers union presidents from the five communities that encompass the school’s district cited published reports suggesting that the school is part of a network of Turkish-led charter schools around the country.
The union presidents said they welcome exposing students to Turkish culture and language, but “our concerns are with the governance and business practices of these schools and the evasiveness about their ties to the Gulen movement.”
CBS’ “60 Minutes,” USA Today and The Boston Globe have all published reports on the network of schools loosely associated with the Gulen movement. According to a Boston Globe story, the Pioneer School of Science in Everett, which is expanding to create the Saugus school, spent taxpayer money to recruit teachers from Turkey and uses the same Turkish-led vendors as other Turkish-led schools.
The executive director’s welcome in the Pioneer School’s student handbook is also nearly identical to welcome messages in other Turkish-led charter schools’ handbooks, according to the report.
Barish Icin, Pioneer’s executive director, said yesterday that the school is not involved in the Gulen movement and is not affiliated with other Turkish-led charter schools.