NY: Arabic School Ex-Principal Fights to Get Job Back

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Thu Oct 25 21:00:46 UTC 2007

October 17, 2007
Arabic School Ex-Principal Fights to Get Job Back


The founding principal of the citys first Arabic-language school said
yesterday that the Bloomberg administration forced her to resign in August
by threatening to shut the school. She said she was applying to get the
job back. In her first detailed public account of what led her to step
down after defending the word intifada on a T-shirt, the principal, Debbie
Almontaser, presented herself as the victim of an anti-Arab smear campaign
from conservative newspapers and blogs and of pressure from city

As she stood on the steps of City Hall, Ms. Almontaser said that
representatives of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel
I. Klein, as well as New Visions, a nonprofit group that helps to start
schools in the city, all demanded that she give up the job and threatened
to close the school, Khalil Gibran International Academy, if she did not.
Ms. Almontaser did not take any questions and her lawyer, Alan Levine,
refused to name the individuals.

In a statement, David Cantor, a spokesman for Chancellor Klein, said: In
August, Ms. Almontaser said she resigned as principal from Khalil Gibran
International Academy to protect the stability of the school and give it
the full opportunity to flourish. He said, The chancellor agreed with her
decision, accepted her resignation, and now considers the matter closed.

The school, in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, one of the citys dual-language
academies, has been headed by an interim principal and the city has been
seeking a full-time replacement. Ms. Almontaser is currently working as an
administrator at the Education Departments headquarters and is still
earning her principals salary. But she also said yesterday that she
planned to file a lawsuit in federal court saying that the city had
violated her right to free speech.

Establishing the Khalil Gibran school, Ms. Almontaser said, was my
American dream. She added, It turned into an American nightmare.

Almost from the time the Education Department announced plans for the
school in February, it faced opposition from parents at public schools
that were to share their space with the Arabic-culture school, as well as
from conservative columnists, who said the school would promote radical

The controversy that ultimately lead to Ms. Almontasers resignation began
in early August, when she faced questioning from The New York Post over
the phrase Intifada NYC, which was printed on T-shirts sold by Arab Women
Active in the Arts and Media, a Brooklyn-based organization. The shirts
had no relation to the school. She said that the word intifada,  which is
commonly used to refer to the Palestinian uprising against Israel
literally meant shaking off and did not only suggest violence.

Yesterday, Ms. Almontaser said that Education Department officials had
forced her to speak to the reporter and then, not satisfied with her
answer, demanded that she write an apology.

Melody Meyer, another spokeswoman for the Education Department, said that
neither the mayors office nor education officials had threatened to close
the school. Preserving the school has been our priority throughout, she
said. Ms. Almontaser was never forced to speak to reporters, make
statements or otherwise act against her will.

Three City Council members, including Robert Jackson, the chairman of the
Education Committee, attended the press conference yesterday and said that
Ms. Almontaser should be reinstated as principal.

Speaking with a calm voice but with clear anger, Ms. Almontaser said that
her critics  particularly those involved with a group that calls itself
the Stop the Madrassa Coalition  had gone after her by fostering hatred of
Arabs and Muslims.

They suggested that as an observant Muslim I was disqualified from leading
the school, Ms. Almontaser said. To stir up anti-Arab prejudice, they
constantly referred to me by my Arabic name, a name that I do not use

Sara Springer, a member of the coalition who watched the press conference,
said that the group believed the school should still come under more

Its a school thats teaching Islamic culture, thats what its all about, Ms.
Springer said. The Department of Education should absolutely reject her

Education officials said that 25 people had applied for the post, and that
Ms. Almontasers application would not be considered.


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