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Parents' shock at move to wind up Islamic school

A clothing company that supplies school uniforms has applied to wind up Malek Fahd Islamic School in Sydney because of its alleged failure to pay debts of $286,303.

Duboke, trading as Oz Fashions, made the application, which will be heard by the Federal Court on August 17.

Documents filed with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission show that Duboke and Malek Fahd's parent company, the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, share the same business address at 932 Bourke Street, Waterloo.

Court documents allege that Malek Fahd has failed to pay 11 invoices dating from January 18 to February 14 this year.

The application was made on July 19, which was 11 days before the NSW Minister for Education, Adrian Piccoli, wrote to the school asking it to repay $9 million in state government funding.

Mr Piccoli said the school had breached funding requirements, which prevented it operating for profit. He said the school was transferring money to the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils without receiving any services in return.

In his letter to school principal Dr Intaj Ali, Mr Piccoli said he had instructed the NSW Department of Education and Communities to terminate the school's funding.

He also wrote to the Association of Independent Schools of NSW to terminate its National Partnership funding. The school receives more than $1 million in annual funding for disadvantaged students through the five-year national partnership agreement between state and federal governments.

Mr Piccoli said that, for the school's state government funding to be reinstated, it would need to provide credible evidence that services were being provided in return for the money being transferred to the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils.

"I continue to have serious concerns about other financial transactions at the school, including the systemic lack of record keeping and documentation," he said.

Mr Piccoli also wrote to the federal Minister for Education, Peter Garrett, saying that he had referred the matter to police and the Australian Securities and Investment Commission.

The federal Department of Education commissioned an independent audit of the school last December to find whether it was spending its public funding on the education of students.

Mr Garrett has said that definitions of what it meant for a school to be operating for profit needed to be tightened.

He has said that while the vast majority of non-government schools are doing the right thing with taxpayers' money, vigilance was needed to ensure public funding was being properly spent.

In a statement, Dr Ali said he disputed Mr Piccoli's findings that the school was operating for profit and he intended to challenge the decision to terminate the school's funding.

"The school will take the appropriate steps to have this decision reviewed and is confident that ultimately the correct outcome will be achieved," he said. "Malek Fahd wishes to reassure all parents, students, staff and the wider community that its focus remains on the delivery of quality education for our students and it will continue to work with both the NSW and the federal Education Departments."

The Herald was unable to contact Dr Ali for comment today.

The Herald also sought comment from the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils which declined to comment and Duboke's solicitor Marc Ryckmans, who did not return calls.

Adam Shepard has been appointed to act as liquidator to Malek Fahd if it is made insolvent.

The school has a history of excluding year 11 and 12 students who are not high performers. The Herald revealed some of its past students were forced to complete HSC subjects at TAFE because they were not achieving high marks in those subjects.

Dominic Bossi writes: Malek Fahd Islamic School has become one of the leaders in Islamic education in Australia and its reputation has convinced families to relocate interstate so their children can attend. Its potential closure has now shocked parents of pupils who have made significant sacrifices for their children's schooling and has left families with few viable alternatives.

"I actually wouldn't know where to go. I moved from the Gold Coast for this school. That was the only thing that was sending me back to Sydney because I wanted my kids to have a good education. When I got a spot here, I ran back [to Sydney]," Said Diane, a parent of a year 1 student.

"This school isn't just about religion, it's about what they're teaching them and what us parents teach their children. I can't even express what I feel, and what I would feel if this school closes down. I probably would [leave Sydney]."

While there are other Islamic schools in Sydney, most parents said they were proud of the balance between religious and academic education offered at Malek Fahd and would not be satisfied to relocate their children.

"My older one is doing medicine now and she got 99.6 per cent from this school. Its [potential closure is] really saddening for me," Seema Mahmood said. "I'm really satisfied with the performance of this school, religious as well as academic. I don't know; it's really shocking. I'm really shocked. It's a big worry for me now if it's closing."

Many parents were not aware of the issues facing the school and some were only told by their children this week.

However, despite the troubles, some parents will continue to support the school if it challenges the government's decision.

"Obviously any money that is funded into the school, you want it to go the kids. If money has gone to buy kids new computers or new desks, then I want that money going to the school and not anyone else," said Abir, who has sent three of her children to Malek Fahd.

"But we're not going to sit here and judge and assume things. Everyone has a right to a trial and prove themselves innocent and, being of the Muslim faith, it teaches you that you can't really assume things, you have to give people a chance."

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