Brooklyn: more objections to Arabic school

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue May 15 14:15:56 UTC 2007

May 15, 2007

Now, Parents in Boerum Hill Raise Objections to an Arabic School


The Department of Education stood on the firing line last night at a
contentious PTA meeting attended by more than 100 Brooklyn parents whose
schools are set to share space with the Khalil Gibran International
Academy, a new dual-language school that will teach Arabic language and
culture. Parents at the Math and Science Exploratory School, a middle
school, and the Brooklyn High School of the Arts complained that the
Khalil Gibran school, scheduled to open at 345 Dean Street in Boerum Hill
in September, would take up too much space and disrupt their programs.
Garth Harries, chief executive of the Office of New Schools at the
Education Department, fielded questions from parents, promising that the
school would occupy space in the building for only two years.

You keep saying theres room here, said one parent, to thunderous applause.
Where exactly is this room you all are talking about? Whats the rush?
another parent said. Why do we have to feel like this is being shoved down
our throats? By department guidelines, there is no space problem: With a
capacity of 1,900 students, the building has room to accommodate all three
schools.  The projected fall enrollment for the Brooklyn High School of
the Arts is 762, and the projected enrollment for the Math and Science
school is 458, a total of 1,220 students. Even if the Khalil Gibran school
fills its 60 seats, down from a planned 80, the building would still be
more than 600 students under capacity.

It was the second time this month that a group of angry parents in
Brooklyn objected to sharing space with the Khalil Gibran school, which
would enroll only sixth graders at first. Ten days ago, the department
scuttled its plan to put it in the building that houses Public School 282,
an elementary school in Park Slope, after parents protested over sharing
space and after a columnist for The New York Sun called the school a
madrassa, an Islamic religious school, and suggested that citizens carry
torches and surround City Hall to prevent its opening. But this time, the
Department of Education seems determined to tamp down the rebellion. We
are not looking for alternatives for Khalil Gibran, said Melody Meyer, a
spokeswoman who attended last nights meeting. The school will open as

Mr. Harries took a verbal beating from parents, furious at what they said
were broken promises from the department to update a science laboratory
and other facilities. I cant sit here and justify when commitments were
not fulfilled in the past, he said at one point. Debbie Almontaser, the
principal of Khalil Gibran, spoke briefly, promising that the school would
have a standard college preparatory curriculum. It is going to be quite
rigorous and challenging, she said. Since first announcing the school in
February, the Education Department has defended the project, which first
appeared ambitious, even idealistic, but has since been bogged down by bad
publicity and furious parents.

By one measure, the school appears well on its way to a September opening.
Ms. Almontaser has already ordered a library of Arabic-language textbooks
from Scholastic, mainly Arabic translations of American childrens books,
Ms. Meyer said. The president of the United Federation of Teachers, Randi
Weingarten, has pledged her support for the school. And despite the
considerable pressure it is under, the department yesterday continued to
insist that the school would open in September in the Dean Street
building. The department has promised that Khalil Gibran will take up
three classrooms in the building two for instruction and one for office
space. But if it does open, as the department maintains it will, the
Khalil Gibran school may struggle to fill its available seats. As of
yesterday, no students were enrolled. And with only weeks left before
classes are dismissed for the summer, most fifth graders already knew
which school they would attend in the fall.

The department has sent letters to parents of fifth graders across the
city, listing Khalil Gibran as an available school for incoming sixth


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