Editor's note: Dove Schools provided the Tulsa World with the following statement from Board Chairwoman Mary Blankenship Pointer after this story was published by the Washington Post:
"A story in the Washington Post warrants a response from our school’s leadership:
"Dove Schools is not involved in the political turmoil taking place in Turkey in any way.
"Dove Schools first began serving Oklahoma students in 2000. In the 19 school years, DOVE has consistently succeeded in providing a rigorous college preparatory STEM-based curriculum with a strong emphasis on discipline, character education, and service to the community. With a diverse student body of over 85% minority (African-American, Hispanic, Asian, and Others) and over 80% free/reduced lunch each year of operation, Dove serves the students and families who need the most help, in both Tulsa and Oklahoma City.
"We consider it a great honor this week to have hosted First Lady Melania Trump. She and the White House could have chosen any number of high-performing schools across the country. They chose Dove because it’s a character-based school with extraordinary results in academic achievement.
"As Mrs. Trump said, 'Dove Schools embody kindness, respect, positive interactions, and strong character through the curriculum.'
"Dove Schools is not affiliated with any religious or social organization. In fact, as a public charter schools, any such association is prohibited. Dove Schools is run by an independent board of directors.
"We are proud of our status as one of Oklahoma’s best-performing schools, which routinely has 100 percent college acceptance rate among graduating seniors. Our children and their families are our priority, and will continue to be our primary focus."
The visit by Melania Trump to a charter school in Tulsa on Monday seemed to be a picture-perfect success for the first lady. She complimented pre-K students on their crayon skills and observed middle-schoolers conducting science experiments. She made small talk and warned a second-grader who had complained about her homework that it was “very important.”
But the first lady had just stepped into a zone fraught with potential diplomatic peril with her stop promoting her Be Best initiative that aims to improve children’s well-being. The Dove School of Discovery, a Tulsa charter institution that focuses on character education, is believed to be part of a network of schools in the United States and abroad linked to the Gulen movement, a secretive religious movement inspired by a 77-year-old Turkish Muslim cleric.
Turkish media and observers of the Turkish-U.S. relationship professed surprise that Melania Trump would visit a school identified with cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose network the Turkish government calls a terrorist organization.
“Melania Trump visits FETO charter school in Oklahoma,” read the headline on TRT World, Turkey’s state-run broadcaster, following Trump’s visit. Turkish authorities refer to Gulen’s movement as FETO, an acronym for the Fethullah Terrorist Organization.
Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for the first lady, said the site was “both recommended and vetted” before the visit and shrugged off any suggestion that there was significance to the choice besides the school’s achievements. “The school was recognized with the 2018 National School of Character award,” she said, citing an accolade given by Character.org, a nonprofit group that certifies and promotes character-development programs. “It was chosen because of their excellent academics and commitment to character education. Their diverse staff and student body should be celebrated.”
From the Tulsa World archives:
Fethullah Gulen is not exactly a household name in the United States.
But the cleric living in self-imposed exile in rural Pennsylvania since 1999, now a permanent U.S. resident, is one of the most influential religious figures in his native Turkey. He has been called the Billy Graham of Turkey, a reference not to his faith, which is not Christian, but to his high profile.
And his influence is global.
The movement he inspired — called the Gulen movement by some and the Hizmet ("service") movement by insiders — has established schools, hospitals, media, social services and cultural centers in some 170 nations.
It extends to the Tulsa area, where his followers have built a Turkish cultural center and have organized cultural exchange trips to Turkey for dozens of Tulsa educators, journalists and business and religious leaders. (Editor’s note: Tulsa World reporter Bill Sherman was on one of the cultural exchange trips to Turkey.)
Education is a central value of the movement. Turkish Muslims sympathetic to Gulen’s views have set up more than 1,000 schools around the world, including some 150 schools in the United States under the public charter school program. Two are in Tulsa — Dove Science Academy and Discovery School of Tulsa — and two are in Oklahoma City.
Local Turks are quick to point out that the schools are not “Gulen schools,” have no direct affiliation with Gulen and are locally controlled and supported by local tax money. Gulen himself has disavowed formal connection with the schools but acknowledges they may be run by people who generally share his values. Contacted about a coup in Turkey, a Dove Public Charter Schools spokesperson said, “In light of the political unrest in Turkey, we see no benefit in making a statement. We do not get involved in politics and remain focused on the success of our students in Tulsa and Oklahoma City.”
A lawsuit brought by the Turkish government against Harmony Public Schools, a chain of dozens of charter schools in Texas, alleged the schools have Gulen ties and illegally favor Turkish teachers and contractors over Americans. The suit was dismissed.
— Religion Editor Bill Sherman, Tulsa World, Aug. 21, 2016