Editor's Note: The most recent updates to this ongoing blog post appear at the top. Scroll down to the beginning for the initial post and earlier updates.
May 29, 2008 update: I have just received a report on Almontaser's statements in "The High Schools" session at the "Academic Freedom in the Age of Permanent Warfare Conference" that took place on April 3, 2008, hosted by New York University's Tamiment Library and Frederic Ewen Academic Freedom Center. At it, Almontaser referred to Campus Watch and facetiously called me "the person who loves me the most." She claimed that I, along with PipelineNews.org and David Horowitz, quote her out of context and use a broad brush for guilt by association. "[They believe] a jihad school grows in Brooklyn [and] describe an Islamist agenda. … [They believe] Debbie does da‘wa." In response, she countered: "If you know me, you'll know I'm extremely fashionable. I wear extravagant jewelry and wear the hijab in different styles."
May 22, 2008 update: More evidence of how wretchedly unsuited Almontaser would have been to head a New York City public school came out in a public talk she gave some days ago at the City University of New York. Phil Orenstein attended the event and wrote it up at "Fantasizing ‘The New McCarthyism'."
She described how people lobbied and a movement was mobilized against the KGIA. Almontaser was the unfortunate victim of a movement by a "loud minority of voices" which she dubbed "McCarthyism of 2008." One writer to the New York Times called this movement of Daniel Pipes, Jeffrey Wiesenfeld and company, "the thought police." The moderator asked why this is happening to you, why are you so under attack? In answer, she described the role played by cultural tolerance and understanding in bridging the gap between East and West and opening doors to peace, so you don't need war anymore. The purpose of KGIA is to create "ambassadors of peace and hope," as the New York Times article mentioned. She said "the school is aiming to humanize the enemy" we're supposed to be at war with. This is a threat to many people who claim that "we're at war" and "we need to keep the war going" in order to thrive. "If you don't have an enemy, you can't keep Lockheed in business." She clarified.
She further characterized her "attackers" as those who feel "we need to have an enemy, a bad guy." What they find threatening is the whole notion of "learning the language and culture of people that we should be hating because we're at war with them." Members of the audience contributed to the theme that "this country is engaged in an imperial war and needs to build up an enemy." Someone elaborated that conservatives, by the same token need to build an enemy on a smaller scale so they target local Muslims, Arabs and the KGIA, and Wiesenfeld lashes out at CUNY and public education, to fulfill their need for an enemy and someone to hate, in order to ultimately support the imperial war.
After the talk, Orenstein went over to Almontaser and spoke to her in private:
I asked her why she placed Muslim imams on the school's advisory board and why was everyone involved so secretive. The difficulty of obtaining inside information to keep the academy transparent to the public was naturally a cause for concern. The names of the clerics, on the advisory board for instance, were only later revealed in a letter to the New York Sun. She blamed the Department of Education for the lack of transparency and claimed she was always forthcoming about the curriculum, the books, and the teachers, but DOE never put it on their website. However, sources from STM claim that queries submitted to the DOE suggest that there was no indication on Almontaser's part that she was seeking transparency concerning the curriculum.
Regarding the imams on her board, she answered that when she was designing the school she was seeking advice from her friends in the community and these imams were eager to offer help. Anyway, as Almontaser declared, the board has already been disbanded by the Department of Education. But Imam Abdur-Rashid, a board member who has written in a radical vein "on the way white Americans "robbed" Africans and Muslims of their heritage," hasn't heard the news of the board's demise according to Andrea Peyser of the New York Post. … I asked Ms. Almontaser why not launch a private school to immerse the student in Arabic language and culture, or a public school with a better Arabic elective program? She answered that she was no longer a principle and cannot make decisions.
Orenstein also comments on Almontaster's seeming obsession with me:
What I witnessed was a closed forum dedicated to a veiled radical agenda, riddled by hysterical paranoia, name-calling, slanderous accusations against prominent scholars and city officials, and strategies for their ouster, where the panelists professed that "attacks" against Arabs and professors are a coordinated right wing smear campaign launched by Daniel Pipes, CUNY trustee Jeffrey Wiesenfeld and their ilk, which they dubbed the "New McCarthyism." But Mr. Pipes and company whom they demonized with such venom, have simply exercised their First Amendment rights of critical journalism and free speech, civilly exchanging opinions and information in online magazine articles, speeches, op-eds and blogs, where all sides of the issues were often given a fair hearing in the media.
To which, he comments:
I was confused as to the reasons for their excessive paranoia. How are Pipes and company threatening their academic freedom? The so-called "New McCarthyites" have been vociferous, no doubt, but they demonstrated nothing resembling the violent student mob attacks at Columbia on Minuteman founder Jim Gilchrist, because he expressed disagreeable views. Mr. Pipes and a few opinionated bloggers, including myself, are not U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy. What is this "vast ideological iceberg" that is "threatening to impact the current election campaign" of which the so-called attacks on academic freedom are only the tip?
May 17, 2008 update: Three members of Stop the Madrassa Coalition, Sara Springer, Irene Alter and Pamela Hall, have brought a libel case against Almontaser on the grounds that Almontaser defamed them in claiming that the coalition "stalked" her.
May 5, 2008 update: The Investigative Project on Terrorism takes a close look today at Almontaser's defense of CAIR (see the May 2, 2008 update, above) and concludes: "If Ms. Almontaser is somehow trying to rebuild her credibility by reaching out to CAIR, she has made a grave error. If there was any doubt before that Ms. Almontaser was unfit to lead a public school teaching America's children, she has put that to rest by her embrace of America's foremost Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas-linked front group."
May 2, 2008 update: Adam Brodsky responds to the Elliott article in the New York Post:
Folks can debate if Almontaser, a Yemeni-American, is a well-meaning Muslim moderate railroaded out of her dream to create "ambassadors of peace and hope" - as she, and the Times, insist. They can weigh the paper's suggestion that she was fired in large part because of a Post story, which a judge said "misleadingly" reported her comments on the term "intifada."
Or they may decide that anti-Islamist experts like Daniel Pipes, who labeled her an "extremist," had her pegged better. And that the Gibran school really is "the kind of radicalizing effort it was said to be," as Stephen Schwartz put it.
That debate might answer questions like: Why did Almontaser feel compelled to defend teen girls whose group sported t-shirts with the incendiary words "Intifada NYC"? What's with her ties to groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations, an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land terror-funding case with links to Hamas?
Apr. 29, 2008 update: I mentioned yesterday that the Elliott article is "overtly sympathetic to Almontaser"; Sara Springer of Stop the Madrassa Coalition documents this bias today in a 2,400-word analysis at "Setting the Record Straight with the NY Times."
Apr. 28, 2008 update: The New York Times has published today a nearly 4,500-word article, "Her Dream, Branded as a Threat" by Andrea Elliott, plus a set of video interviews, "Battle Over a Brooklyn School," that looks in depth at the school and the issues it raises. While overtly sympathetic to Almontaser (note the article's title), Elliott fairly represented the views of school critics, including myself. She also provides some new pieces of information:
In planning the new Arabic school, Almontaser needed a community partner. Elliott explains: "Two groups wanted the job: a secular Arab-American social services agency and a Muslim-led organization that runs Al-Noor School, a private Islamic establishment in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Ms. Almontaser said she tried to remain neutral as discord erupted between the two groups. Quietly, though, she worried that if an organization linked to a private Islamic school took the lead, the city would never approve the project, despite the group's pledge to keep religion out of the curriculum. Ultimately, a steering committee led by Ms. Almontaser voted in favor of the social services agency. Leaders of the Muslim group walked away feeling disrespected and distrustful of her, several of the group's members said in interviews."
Of interest particularly to me was to learn that in mid-2007 (no specific date provided), David Cantor, chief spokesman for the NYC Department of Education, wrote an e-mail message to Seth Lipsky, editor of The New York Sun: "I won't allow Dan Pipes a free pass to smear Debbie Almontaser as an Islamist proselytizer who denies Muslim involvement in 9/11. It is a false picture and an ugly effort." Comment: Excuse me, but is this the way for public officials to refer to critics?
Soon after KGIA opened its doors on Sep. 4, 2007, chaos erupted inside. "Students cut classes and got into fights with little consequence, said staff members, parents and students. At least 12 of the 60 students showed signs of behavioral problems or learning disabilities, said Leslie Kahn, a licensed social worker and counselor who was employed at the school until January. (Education Department officials, who denied repeated requests by The Times to visit the school, said there are currently six special-needs students there.) "Something is flying through the air, every class, every day," Sean R. Grogan, a science teacher at the school, said in an interview. "Kids bang on the partitions, yell and scream, curse and swear. It's out of control." Physical altercations are frequent, Mr. Grogan and others said, with Arab students and teachers the target of ethnic slurs. "I just don't feel safe," said an Arab-American student, 11, who will not return to the school next year."
Apr. 17, 2008 update: Moving KGIA to P.S. 287 in Fort Greene appears to one advocate, Mona Eldahry of Arab Women Active in the Arts and Media (AWAAM), to amount to a death sentence for the school. First, the move takes the school out of an Arabic-speaking neighborhood and "It's best for a dual language school to be in a neighborhood where the language taught is spoken." Second, the administration's having abandoned Almontaser means that the DoE is pandering to its critics, which Eldanry deems a "crime." Keeping KGIA in its current location and funding it more generously would, Eldahry concedes, "right the wrong" of Almontaser's ouster.
Apr. 11, 2008 update bis: Stephen Schwartz reports in "CAIR vs. the NYPD" The Wahhabi lobby attacks" that Almontaser's ties to CAIR run significantly deeper than was known before.
The issue concerns an exemplary report issued in 2007 by the New York Police Department (NYPD), Radicalization in the West: The Home-Grown Threat, that anchored terrorism in what it called the "jihadi-Salafi" ideology. The analysis, naturally, met with a hostile reception from CAIR. Schwartz reveals that it and other organizations issued a statement on November 23, 2007, in the name of the "Muslim community," protesting the report and calling on New York police commissioner Raymond W. Kelly to rescind and correct it, and also to commit to working with Islamist organizations. These Wahhabi lobby activists then formulated a "Community Statement" that critiqued the report and informed the city's police what they really should do in response to Islamism. As Schwartz puts it, "The extremists would set the NYPD's overall agenda, forcing Commissioner Kelly and his personnel to work according to Wahhabi guidelines and at the Wahhabis' convenience."
Schwartz also got hold of the minutes of a meeting held in New York on March 3, when CAIR (represented by Faiza Ali, Aliya Latif, and Omar Mohammadi) met with Syed Z. Sayeed and Almontaser to prepare a detailed reply to Radicalization in the West. Schwartz then notes:
Perhaps the most remarkable detail about the March 3 conclave was the leading role taken in it by Debbie Almontaser, a New York resident who last attracted attention as the front-person for a middle-and-high magnet school to be established in New York, the Khalil Gibran International Academy (KGIA). KGIA was intended as a special institution emphasizing an Arabic language curriculum and related studies, but its proponents were accused of trying to establish an "intifada academy." Nevertheless, when Almontaser came under scrutiny as the project head she was defended by many in New York as a faultless moderate. Her involvement in CAIR's counter-attack on the NYPD demonstrates otherwise: her assignment in dealing with NYPD was to organize an online discussion group for input into the Community Statement.
Such would not be a minor responsibility, and shows that she enjoyed the full confidence of the CAIR commissars. Debbie Almontaser appears to be a classic "stealth Islamist," and KGIA looks like just the kind of radicalizing effort it was said to be by its critics.
Comment: Now we have a better idea why Almontaser received a CAIR award (on which, see above, Mar. 10, 2007 update).
Apr. 11, 2008 update: The KGIA seems unable to get anything right. Rachel Monahan reports in the New York Daily News that it also suffers problems of space and control. Teachers union district representative Bob Zuckerberg says "The space there is totally unacceptable. [It's] something the Department of Education should never have allowed." Because classrooms are separated by walls that do not reach the ceiling, "The noise level is kind of high," according to Zuckerberg. "Because of the space issues, it has led to discipline and safety issues."
Parents are in a near-state of revolt. KGIA's Parent-Teacher Association President Pomposa Peña threatens that she and many other parents "are planning to transfer our kids to other schools at the end of this school year if the Department of Education continues to neglect [KGIA]." One father of a student, Muhammed Shahadat, complains that students lack access to computers in recent months and even Arabic lessons have been scaled back. (Department of Education officials acknowledge that the after-school program classes have been reduced from twice a week to once.) Shahadat added: "It's not what you'd expect of public school. A lot of parents have said that the principal lacks the experience to discipline the kids."
Apr. 5, 2008 update: KGIA finally has a new location, shoe-horned into Public School 287, on Navy Street near Flushing Avenue in Brooklyn. Trouble is, the parents of at the Vinegar Hill elementary school already there are none too happy, according to Dana Rubinstein in the Brooklyn Paper. One complained about having been "bamboozled" by the city without advance discussions. Edgardo Rivera, head of the Parent-Teacher Association at the elementary school added that "Everyone was stunned by the decision." Councilwoman Letitia James (D–Fort Greene) complained that "The city originally told stakeholders that it was just thinking about placing Khalil Gibran there, and then they come back and say it's a done deal." To which Melody Meyer, the beleagured DOE spokeswoman replied that "The parent leaders have been a part of the process from the beginning."
Apr. 4, 2008 update: Stop the Madrassa Community Coalition did some research into the AERA letter signatories and found that they include "a number of well- known former leaders of extremist Leftist organizations." It points specifically to William Ayers, the Weather Underground member personally involved with a number of terrorist incidents in the 1970s, and Michael Klonsky, founder and chairman of the pro-Maoist "Communist Party, Marxist-Leninist."
Apr. 3, 2008 update: The annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association inspired an open letter signed by thirty educaters to New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein "in Support of the Khalil Gibran International Academy and Principal Debbie Almontaser." They pull no punches:
When Debbie Almontaser was forced out as principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy, a blow was struck against the rights and academic freedom of educators everywhere. Principal Almontaser was the guiding light and the pioneer behind the founding of the new school, which was envisioned as part of a vibrant small-schools movement fostering personalization, autonomy, and the empowerment of teachers.
A campaign of lies, racial fear, and anti-Arab prejudice, emanating from a conservative media group including the New York Post and supported by Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein, forced Almontaser from her post. … KGIA was attacked by a small group of fear-mongering bigots. It was labeled a "terrorist school" and a "madrassa." …
Debbie Almontaser did nothing wrong. She committed no crime. She violated no rules nor any terms of her contract. She was forced to resign after doing nothing more than answering a reporter's question about the root meaning of the word "intifada."
For those of us working in the field of education, the treatment of Debbie Almontaser represents a threat not only to our rights as educators and citizens in a democratic society; it is also an attack on the small-schools movement and on the push for diversity and equity within our system of public education. Will bigotry be allowed to decide which public schools can exist and who can lead them?
We the undersigned insist that Debbie Almontaser be returned to her post as founding principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy.
One of the letter's signatories, Michael Klonsky, explained the genesis of the letter at the AERA conference. "There was so much support among the leading educators around the country, we thought we should do something."
Comments: (1) More of that name-calling. Can't the Left ever formulate a positive argument anymore? (2) KGIA and Almontaser are turning into a national cause celèbre.
Mar. 21, 2008 update: Mary Frost reports in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle that Almontaser will continue her efforts to become principal of KGIA.
Mar. 20, 2008 update: In a complex legal development the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today that Almontaser, in the words of the Associated Press, "cannot immediately force New York City to give her another shot at getting her job back. … But Debbie Almontaser may still pursue the matter at a trial." The fast track denied her, the case could take years to resolve. Having lost her appeal for immediate reconsideration by the DOE, everything stays the way it is. Almontaser could still win the case; or New York City could settle it with her.
Mar. 3, 2008 update: Almontaser and her supporters just won't give up, but keep ratcheting up the pressure for her return. Something called Riptide Communications posted a press release today, "Arab-American Educator Charges NYC Department of Education with Discrimination," that indicates she "filed an amended complaint in her federal lawsuit and a charge with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, both of which assert that Department of Education (DOE) officials discriminated against her on the basis of race, religion, and national origin." To be more specific, says her lawyer, Alan Levine:
The DOE's demand for Almontaser's resignation followed a relentless public relations assault that focused on her as an Arab and a Muslim. The DOE's capitulation to those attacks constitutes, as a matter of law, discrimination by the DOE. The appointment of a patently less qualified white, non-Muslim woman was the final act of the DOE's discriminatory conduct.
That's sure not mincing words. Also of note, the release seems to blame half of Almontaser's predicament on this entry:
As a result of a series of attacks on the school by a conservative blog and an article in the New York Post that quoted Ms. Almontaser on a matter completely unrelated to KGIA, the DOE forced her to resign her post and further, denied her the opportunity to apply for the job of permanent Principal.
Feb. 28, 2008 update: Yet more troubles – no one wants KGIA. "Khalil Academy's plans to inhabit P.S. 287 met with resistance," write Rachel Monahan and Carrie Melago in the New York Daily News. The DOE has ideas of moving it to Public School 287 in the Fort Greene are next academic year but parents from the school have made known their opposition to the school.
- PTA President Edgardo Rivera: "It's a bad idea altogether. We want the elementary school to stay an elementary school."
- Ed Brown, president of the Ingersoll Parents Association: "I'm adamantly opposed to its being in this building."
Feb. 27, 2008 update: KGIA has not even been open a full half year and it already seems to be sinking, according to Ariel Siegel, "Problems persist at city Arabic school" in Washington Square News of New York University. The troubles are several-fold:
- "since its inception it has been a source of controversy and criticism from people who question the value and mission of an Arabic school in the public school system. Groups have formed to protest the school and its curriculum, including a coalition of community members called "Stop the Madrassa," which calls KGIA "a badly managed and inflammatory educational ‘experiment'" on its website.
- from the opposite direction, "some school supporters are calling for the return of founding principal Debbie Almontaser," even going to the extent of bad-mouthing Holly Ann Reichert, who has not even been at the school two months. For example, Fatin Jarara, whose younger sister attends KGIA, issued a press release stating that "Ms. Reichert seemingly does not have the leadership skills it takes to manage the school well."
- "teachers at the school have said KGIA has been provided with inadequate space, inadequate materials." KGIA teachers said that they lack such tools as "a good textbook, a language lab, internet usage from time to time, or access to some good Arabic TV channels."
- inability "to effectively integrate Arabic culture into the curriculum - one of the primary purposes of the school's creation, according to KGIA's page on the DOE's website."
Also, the DOE has indicated that KGIA will probably move to another location with more space in September 2008.Jan. 29, 2008 update: Sara Springer of the Stop the Madrassa Coalition attended today a "Performance in Support of The Khalil Gibran International Academy," and came away with the sense that it "seemed more like a wake than a celebration."
That feeling was underlined by the evening's speakers, those most intimately involved with the controversial Arab language school, its instructors, some of whom choked back tears while they addressed a crowd of approximately 200. Instead of touting the school's success, nearly everyone who addressed the assembly talked about the institution's abandonment and loss of support by the DOE, New Visions, and Brooklyn's Arab American Family Support Center [AAFSC]. To those who spoke tonight, the school is a hollow shell of what New York DOE Chancellor Joel Klein had promised, and what Department spokesmen continue to portray in public.
Security problems abound, with one teacher confiding to a member of the KGIA design team that he had been assaulted today but was forced to take the matter to the police because school security did not respond. He further stated that for his efforts he had been reprimanded by school leadership. Tonight's speakers appeared to be united in their belief that so little in the way of Arabic language instruction materials are being supplied that KGIA staff are being forced to download such basic items as Arabic characters from the internet, in order to present to their language classes which have been drastically cut in number and duration.
Springer concludes that "KGIA looms as a failed experiment. It is a disaster imposed upon Brooklyn by an arrogant DOE which now maintains the effort out of sheer spite, defiant to the last that the program's critics, which now have been proven right, will not be allowed to triumph."
Jan. 17, 2008 update: Sean R. Grogan, a science teacher at KGIA, issued a statement today that includes this cry of despair:
the school has been abandoned by all those who claim to support it. We have not received the instruments and items we were told to expect. Our space is inappropriate; we have been forced to teach in a reading room and a hallway. The partitions that were provided to us do not reach the ceilings. Lockers were not installed until last Friday, leaving our students with no where to store their belongings. We have been left and forgotten. Teachers have been chastised without being offered the proper supports. Our social worker is being let go, against the wishes of many of the students, parents, and staff due to a personal bias on the part of the former principal. These things may sound trivial to an outsider, but most any teacher can tell you that an inappropriate location can hurt a child's success. Add to that the number of resources we are not set up to provide and the result is teachers scrambling to fill in gaps that they are not meant to fill.
Jan. 9, 2008 update: The KGIA has a new principal, Holly Anne Reichert, 42, and she immediately distanced herself from Almontaser's mischievous legacy by responding to a question about intifada, saying: "It's a word that connotes tremendous violent conflict, and I don't think it should be used casually, as on a T-shirt." Let's hope that this reply augurs a real change of mentality at KGIA, not just a cosmetic one for media purposes.
Nov. 26, 2007 update: Chuck Bennett of the New York Post reports in "Class ‘clown': Arab school extremists? Try a mime," about the personal biographies of some of the school's teachers. He starts with this observation: "Critics of the Khalil Gibran International Academy feared the new Brooklyn school would become an Islamic extremist indoctrination center. But a review of the professional work histories of the staff reveals little to suggest anything so nefarious."
Then Bennett gives three redacted examples of teacher backgrounds. (Redacted because the Department of Education fears legal action from the teachers union; so it provided the Post with only some details of cover letters and résumés but not names of teachers.)
- The school's English-as-a-second-language teacher is "a mother of two grown children, has a 1983 law degree from Brooklyn College and a Master's in education from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Indeed, the only thing that stands out is that she owned up on her résumé to working as a mime from 1971 to 1973."
- "The humanities teacher professes a love for TS Eliot in his or her résumé. The 1997 graduate of Ain Shams University in Cairo did a thesis on "religious drama" in the poet's work. The teacher then received the equivalent of a Master's in education from Alexandria University in Egypt."
- "The school's other Arabic speaker teaches math, and is an immigrant from an unspecified Middle Eastern country. This instructor, who has a Master's from Brooklyn College, served on the planning committee of the academy with Debbie Almontaser."
Comment: This is one of the most foolish commentaries of the entire KGIA affair, for Bennett assumes that playing as a mime, loving T.S. Eliot, or mastering mathematics implies moderation. But, as I established twelve years ago in "The Western Mind of Radical Islam," it is not just possible to combine these interests with Islamism but a widespread pattern. Coincidentally, that article mentions T.S. Eliot in its first paragraph:
Fat'hi ash-Shiqaqi, a well-educated young Palestinian living in Damascus, recently boasted of his familiarity with European literature. He told an interviewer how he had read and enjoyed Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, Chekhov, Sartre, and T.S. Eliot. He spoke of his particular passion for Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, a work he read ten times in English translation "and each time wept bitterly." Such acquaintance with world literature and such exquisite sensibility would not be of note except for two points – that Shiqaqi was, until his assassination in Malta in late 1995, a fundamentalist Muslim and that he headed Islamic Jihad, the arch-terrorist organization that has murdered dozens of Israelis over the last two years.
Need one say more? The article offers an explanation for the tie between modernity and Islamism.
Nov. 22, 2007 update: More evidence about Almontaser's affiliations: speakers at a rally on her behalf that took place Nov. 19, reports the New York Jewish Week, included not just Faiza Ali representing CAIR (see the Nov. 20, 2007 update on that) but also two other figures of note:
Mona Eldahry, executive director of Arab Women in the Arts and Media (AWAAM), who as lead speaker at the rally, "hailed Almontaser for having refused to condemn the T-shirts."
Charles Barron, a former Black Panther and now City Council member from Brooklyn, who has made a career out of black racism, as can be seen by reading his entry at Discover the Network.
(For videos of the speeches at the Nov. 19 event, see http://www.awaam.org/.)
Hearing about these speakers, Jeff Wiesenfeld of Stop the Madrassa Coalition responded, "I ask the readership of The Jewish Week, now that they know who the supporters of this school are, are they happy? Are they comfortable? Does this give them confidence that [the Khalil Gibran International Academy] is one that is properly controlled and supervised?"
Nov. 20, 2007 update: "CAIR-NY Joins Rally for Ousted Arabic School Principal" headlines a press release issued today by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which reads in part:
A representative of the New York chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-NY) yesterday spoke at a press conference in support of the Khalil Gibran International Academy's founding principal Debbie Almontaser who is suing New York City's Department of Education and mayor for alleged violation of her First Amendment rights.
Almontaser's complaint claims the mayor and schools chancellor engaged in a conspiracy to deny her her constitutional right of freedom of speech.
Comment: Not only did Almontaser receive an award from CAIR, the country's leading Islamist group (on which see the Mar. 10, 2007 update), but she enjoys its political support. That's yet another reason to worry about the Islamist orientation of the school she designed and once led.
Oct. 25, 2007 update: A little sleuthing finds that Almontaser donated a sizeable amount of money to the Islamist friendly Cynthia McKinney.
Oct. 17, 2007 update: In Almontaser's first public statement since her resignation, she mentions several critical writings on KGIA, including my first column on the school, "A Madrassa Grows in Brooklyn," then she goes on to assert:
From the day the school was approved to the day I was forced to resign, the New York Sun plastered my picture on its website with a link to negative articles about KGIA. Leading the attack was the "Stop the Madrassa Coalition" run by Daniel Pipes, who has made his career fostering hatred of Arabs and Muslims.
In related news, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) came out in support of Almontaser's reinstatement. In addition, its press release indicates that it belongs to "Communities in Support of KGIA."
Comment: Almontaser is providing more evidence for why she should not be principal of a New York City public school, or in any other way affiliated with the educational system. First wrong fact: I never "ran" the Stop the Madrassa Coalition. It started completely independently of me in June and I joined its advisory board in August. Second wrong fact: I do not hate Arabs and Muslims and have never fostered such sentiments. I defy Almontaser to produce evidence to the contrary.
Sep. 19, 2007 update: Another distressing sign that the KGIA purpose is less to teach Americans Arabic and more to coddle Arab-Americans, from a news report about efforts to reinstate Almontaser:
Sara Said, 21, a college student who immigrated from Yemen 12 years ago and lives in Brooklyn, said her brother, 11, is learning math and science as well as Arabic at Khalil Gibran. "I want him to be in an environment where he learns about Arabic culture," she said. "That way he'll be proud of who he is."
Sep. 5, 2007 update: To commemorate the opening of KGIA, I published an article, "Teach Arabic or Recruit Extremists?" that looks at other public schools teaching Arabic in the United StatesStates and shows the consistent pattern of pan-Arab nationalist or Islamist recruitment.
Also today, Andrea Peyser writes at "Odd Lesson on ‘Jihad' at Arab Academy" about the views of Talib Abdur-Rashid of KGIA's advisory board, about the meaning of jihad. "Struggle," he explains. When Peyser protests that to her it means holy war, he replies, "And that's not my definition. That's a common definition - struggle on various levels." And Peyser reports that Almontaser yesterday told CNN International that she is not a terrorist, but her critics are. "To me, [they] seem more like terrorists. They're the ones who are terrorizing us."
Aug. 28, 2007 update: The "Friends of Gibran Council" (which defines itself as "an international organization with chapters in Lebanon and the United States") issued a statement today, "The Friends of Gibran Council Asks the New York City Department of Education To Cease Using Kahlil Gibran's name for the Khalil Gibran International Academy." It includes the following passages:
The proposed Kahlil Gibran International Academy (KGIA), based on information received to date by the FoGC, would not honor the legacy of a great poet, an artist who achieved greatness in the US as an emigrant fleeing Lebanon where his community has been suffering persecution in their ancestral home in Lebanon at the hands of religious powers. …
the board of trustees of the KGIA should reflect Gibran's values and ideals. Appointing radicals and Imams who have been associated with extremist and Jihadist groups is an affront to these ideals.
The teaching of Arabic in public schools is a laudable goal; many more American students should be proficient in this largely spoken language. However, in no way should the Arabic language and Islamism be mixed.
Aug. 27, 2007 update: The Thomas More Law Center, a Christian public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, announced that it is representing New Yorkers opposed to the opening of the KGIA in just over a week. "This proposed public school is nothing more than an incubator for the radicalization that leads to terrorism," says Richard Thompson, president of the center.
Aug. 21, 2007 update: What about the KGIA advisory board as a whole? Elizabeth Green writes in today's New York Sun:
A member of the Khalil Gibran advisory council, Rabbi Andrew Bachman, said the board has yet to meet and has been effectively dissolved since Ms. Almontaser resigned earlier this month. Rabbi Bachman said he has not heard from Khalil Gibran's new principal, Danielle Salzberg, since she took over last week. A Department of Education spokeswoman said Ms. Salzberg will decide whether the advisory board will continue.
Also, a transcript of the Aug. 13 meeting at Brooklyn's Islamic Center of Bay Ridge in support of Almontaser includes a woman from CAIR announcing that "at our office too we've been talking about this all day," meaning the Almontaser resignation. No surprise, as this has been CAIR's baby from the start.
Aug. 20, 2007 update: The Stop the Madrassa Coalition (whose advisory board I have just joined) today demanded that Talib Abdur-Rashid be dropped from the KGIA advisory board. (For the board's make-up, see the Apr. 28 entry.) A coalition spokeswoman described his efforts as "indoctrination in which they make everything Muslim- and Islamic-centric, at the expense of the rest of the world's contribution to history."
Aug. 19, 2007 update: In a mailing today, CAIR not only urges "Muslim New Yorkers and other people of conscience" to sign an AWAAM petition supporting KGIA, but it also announces its co-sponsorship of a rally tomorrow at the NYC Department of Education with the same end of showing solidarity with KGIA. Talk about the school being wrapped in the mantle of Islamists!
Aug. 18, 2007 update: Beila Rabinowitz alerts me to another Islamist feature of the KGIA's advisory board: Imam Talib Abdul-Rashid, about whom I have previously written (noting that he "belongs to the ‘National Committee to Free Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin'," a convicted cop-killer), turns out to be the "resident imam" of the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood, Harlem. The MIB's logo shows a sword with the words "There is no deity but God and Muhammad is his prophet." Yet more alarming, however, is the Muslim Brethren slogan, devised by Hasan al-Banna himself, printed right on the "About us" page:
Allah is our goal
The Prophet Muhammad ibn ‘Abdullah is our leader
The Qu'ran is our constitution
Jihad is our way
And death in the way of Allah is our promised end.
Abdul-Rashid's bio also lists that he is a member of the "N.Y.C. Dept. of Education Chancellor's Interfaith Advisory Committee to the NYC Dept. of Education," pointing to the deeper state of rot in the whole of the DOE when it comes to Islam. That this man is on the KGIA board offers further confirmation of the school's Islamist quality.Aug. 17, 2007 update: I discussed the KGIA today with New York City's former mayor, Ed Koch, and the conversation with him makes me realize that I need to be more specific when I say (as I did in the first entry of this weblog) that there needs to be "special scrutiny" of KGIA.
I do not mean by this that the advisory board (membership listed above, Apr. 28 entry) sign off on the school's activities, nor that distracted Department of Education bureaucrats nod their okay, but that there be a robust Supervisory Board special to the KGIA that intensively and hands-on reviews the school's activities. Its ranks should be made up of individuals aware of and knowledgeable about the threat of radical Islam, along the lines of the NYPD report issued just two days ago, "Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat." This is not an opportunity to display political correctness, but a test case for developing needed skills without the danger of self-inflicted harm.
Aug. 16, 2007 update: More confirmation for KGIA's Arabist/Islamist nature comes from Zein Rimawi, a founder of the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, and an organizer with the Arab Muslim American Federation. "It's like somebody spit in our face as Arabs," he said of the appointment of Danielle Salzberg, a Jewish woman, as KGIA principal. "They didn't hire an Arab principal [for] a Chinese school. It doesn't make any sense. This is no respect to our community. Where is the respect?"
Aug. 15, 2007 update: I published a third column today on the KGIA, "Stop the NYC Madrassa," focusing on the role of the "Stop the Madrassa Coalition." Also, a picture accompanying a New York Post story on the KGIA shows Danielle Salzberg opening a door to the school as women in black body coverings bring their children to her, again confirming my point about the Islamist tendencies of an Arabic-language school.
Aug. 14, 2007 update: How interesting to learn more about Danielle Salzberg, the interim KGIA principal. Elizabeth Green of the New York Sun interviewed her father, Michael Salzberg, and found out that Danielle grew up in an Orthodox Jewish household, has a bachelor's degree from New York University, then attended Columbia Teachers College, does not speak Arabic, and belongs to a Manhattan synagogue. Her father says she seemed apprehensive when the Department of Education asked her to run Khalil Gibran temporarily. He noted that his daughter's politics are far more liberal than his.
Meanwhile, the STM Coalition website documents the ways that Salzberg was presumably involved in the mistakes of KGIA thus far.
Comments: (1) This is one clever appointment by the Department of Education. (2) Will a liberal Jewish woman who does not know Arabic be the one to stymie KGIA's Arabist and Islamist impulses? Count me highly skeptical – and still opposed to this school opening in exactly three weeks.
Aug. 13, 2007 update: Abdelkader got it wrong, as her correction on the same webpage indicates. She quotes Almontaser:
For the record, I have not had any discussion about continuing with the Department of Education with anyone. As for my replacement, the Arab-American Family Support Center can make a recommendation to Chancellor Klein who then decides who to hire.
Lena Alhusseini of AAFSC also corrected the record: "The DOE decides on hiring a new principal not AAFSC."
Danielle is a strong leader and an excellent educator who knows what it takes to help our students succeed. Working with the committed and talented staff at Khalil Gibran, I am confident that Danielle will help ensure that students receive the top-notch education they need and deserve.
On behalf of the AAFSC, Alhusseini professes herself "delighted" with the choice. She calls Salzberg "uniquely qualified to assume this post" because, as a senior program officer for "New Visions for Public Schools," she "had direct responsibility for supporting the Khalil Gibran planning team over the last six months." Also, Alhusseini finds that Salzberg shares AAFSC's "dedication to creating" the KGIA.
On a related subject, the Stop the Madrassa coalition has information about KGIA's scholastic materials, according to a WorldNetDaily.com report:
Text books, lesson plans and teacher materials will be adapted from publications supplied by the Council on Islamic Education, Springer says. CIE's chief consultant is Susan Douglass, a Muslim activist whose husband is on the Saudi government payroll as a teacher at an Islamic academy that has graduated terrorists. "Parents have raised the fear of jihad incitement privately," said [eighth-grade teacher Sara] Springer, who has attended a few of the PTA meetings concerning the school.
Comment: Predictably, the Council on Islamic Education is an Islamist organization.
Also of interest is an account from a pro-KGIA source on what happened to Almontaser and why she is no longer principal of KGIA. Here is Mona Eldahry, co-founder of AWAAM, speaking on "Democracy Now!", the interview show hosted by Amy Goodman:
The forces opposed are actually, you know, organized, organized people, who should be, you know—who should be brought to, you know—we should address this. There's a Stop the Madrassa Coalition, and if you go to their website, you can see all of the organizations who are involved. There's Pamela Hall, who's the head of that. And there's Daniel Pipes, who is a blogger, website owner, you know. And they have really whipped up this hysteria. And the thing is that the press, the Post and Fox, have actually helped them do it. The press is—if it wasn't for the press, Randi Weingarten would not have condemned Debbie, and if it wasn't for that, Debbie probably would not have resigned.
I may disagree politically with Eldahry, but not with her account of what happened, even if she has mangled who I am.
Aug. 12, 2007 update: According to Rima Abdelkader, a New York-based journalist who writes at www.Arabisto.com, "the Arab-American community in New York will be holding an impromptu town hall meeting to be scheduled tomorrow[, Aug. 13,] at the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge at 6:30pm.… Discussions will include a city-wide boycott of the New York Post as well as on how the situation has been handled by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the New York Department of Education."
Abdelkader then continues with some surprising news: "Ms. Almontaser will be returning to her previous position on Monday, August 13 and KGIA will continue to be in service, according to a reliable source I spoke to earlier today. I was also told that Lena Alhusseini, head of the AAFSC, will decide on who will replace Ms. Almontaser."
Comments: (1) The Islamic Society of Bay Ridge has been recently in the news due to criticism of New York Times reporter Andrea Elliott receiving a Pulitzer Prize for her puff-piece on the society's imam, hiding the radicalized nature of this mosque.
(2) Presumably the boycott of the New York Post would be in retaliation for its hard-hitting news coverage and editorials on the Almontaser matter.
(3) "Lena Alhusseini, head of the AAFSC, will decide on who will replace Ms. Almontaser." Really, and not the Department of Education? One knew that the Arab American Family Support Center had a central role at the KGIA, but not quite this central.
Aug. 11, 2007 update: The New York Post put the Almontaser resignation on its first page with the headline "Sheik Up." America Online placed this news on its "Welcome page" and asked two questions of its readers in a large-scale but unscientific poll. As of 5 p.m. EDT today, the replies looked like this:
Do you find T-shirts imprinted with "Intifada NYC" offensive?
Yes 83% 124,899
No 17% 25,647
What do you think about the principal's resignation?
It's a good thing 86% 119,764
It's a bad thing 14% 19,146
Unfortunately, AOL did not ask readers whether KGIA should or should not be opened on September 4, but the drift of public opinion is very clear.
"Almontaser will remain on the Department of Education payroll and be reassigned to a position not connected with the academy," reports the New York Post..
Aug. 10, 2007 update: Dhabah Almontaser has resigned as principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy. Here are various documents, some of them assembled by Julie Bosman of the New York Times:
Almontaser sent a pugnacious letter of resignation to Klein:
Unfortunately, a small group of highly misguided individuals has launched a relentless attack on me because of my religion. They have used my religion as the pretext to undermine the Academy and have taken my words out of context to distort my record and portray me as something that I am not. They have not succeeded, of course. The Academy will open as scheduled. They confused me for the larger movement in support of equity in education for all New Yorkers and they underestimated the Mayor's commitment.
With your unwavering support in the face of these unprecedented attacks, and the love of my family, they did not bother me. However, their intolerant and hateful tone has come to frighten some of the parents and incoming students. I have grown increasingly concerned that these few outsiders will disrupt the community of learning when the Academy opens its doors on September 4th.
Therefore, I have decided to step aside to give the Academy and its dedicated staff the full opportunity to flourish without these unwarranted attacks.
The small group of fear mongers who used hate and prejudice to try to derail the Academy are on the wrong side of history. New York is bigger than that; America is fairer than that.
Almontaser also released a milder public statement, under Education Department auspices:
This morning I tendered my resignation to Chancellor Klein, which he accepted. I became convinced yesterday that this week's headlines were endangering the viability of Khalil Gibran International Academy, even though I apologized. I have spent the last two years of my nearly 15 years with the Department working to create the unique educational opportunities that the school will offer. I will not allow the recent outcry to undermine these possibilities for the children of our city.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the resignation during his weekly radio show on WABC-AM:
I know the woman. She's worked for the city in a variety of capacities. She's very smart. She's certainly not a terrorist. She really does care. And she said something a couple days ago—she got a question, she's not all that media-savvy maybe, and she tried to explain a word rather than just condemn. But I think she felt that she had become the focus of — rather than having the school the focus, so today she submitted her resignation, which is nice of her to do. I appreciate all her service and I think she's right to do so. But now, let's look to the future.
School Chancellor Joel Klein issued a statement:
I accept the resignation of Debbie Almontaser, founder of Khalil Gibran International Academy. Debbie brought to the work of creating the school strong dedication and a commitment to the success of all of New York City's children. She reflected that commitment by stepping aside as the school's leader when controversy about her remarks threatened to destabilize the school. I continue to believe that an Arabic dual language program, much like our other successful dual language programs, offers unique preparation for the global marketplace, and I remain committed to the success of Khalil Gibran International Academy.
Randi Weingarten released a statement:
We respect Ms. Almontaser's decision to resign to allow the Khalil Gibran International Academy to go forward with its educational mission. Getting a new school up and running is challenging under the best of circumstances, and the controversy surrounding her was a distraction that kept concerned parents and educators from focusing on the benefits and potential of this dual-language school. Ms. Almontaser has a reputation for being a caring and dedicated educator, and we hope she will continue to work for the benefit of children.
In light of this news, Dov Hikind cancelled the rally scheduled for August 12. Hikind added that he hopes to convince the New York State legislature to call on the city to shut down the school before it even opens. He prefers that Arabic be taught in normal public schools. "If she got herself into trouble, imagine what the kids will do."
In other KGIA news, the initial 6th-grade class contains just 44 registered students, including 6 Arabic speakers and 1 English-language learner. Some 75 percent of students identified themselves as "black." So far, 5 teachers have been hired. Also, the Department of Education denied her request to serve "halal" meals in the school cafeteria; students wanting halal meals would have to bring them on their own. Finally, the DOE insists that the Arabic-speakers Almontaser wants to bring in to converse with students during lunch would first have to go through a background check.
Comments: (1) Its immediate cause must be the most surprising aspect of Almontaser's resignation. I offer three explanations for why the "Intifada NYC" T-shirts affected her after she'd been tied, without effect, to so many radical activities and outlandish statements in the past.
Something said currently counts in a way that older missteps did not.
The Arab-Israeli conflict hits home in ways that anti-Americanism does not.
This statement culminated a months' long process, serving as the straw that broke the camel's back.
(2) Almontaser's departure from KGIA, highly welcome as it is, does not solve the more basic problem of an Arabic-language school lacking special scrutiny. To repeat what I wrote when I first took up this topic in March:
In principle it is a great idea – the United States needs more Arabic-speakers. In practice, however, Arabic instruction is heavy with Islamist and Arabist overtones and demands.… an Arabic-language school in New York needs to be held under special scrutiny.… unless such controls are clearly put in place, I am opposed to the opening of this school.
The city, in other words, can take steps to make the KGIA acceptable. Trouble is, in the statements quoted above by the mayor and school chancellor, they suggest no such steps are underway. Until and unless the city leadership changes the tone and substance of its approach to the KGIA, I shall continue to call for its not opening on September 4, 2007, for the 2007-08 school year.
Aug. 9, 2007 update: Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers, a union, wrote a letter to the New York Post published today in which she slams Almontaser:
It is very disturbing to read about Almontaser defending the use of the term "Intifada NYC," and I agree wholeheartedly with your editorial denouncing the practice ("Joel Klein's Choice," Post-Opinion, Aug. 7).
As someone who traveled to Israel within the year, I know intifada means more than simply "shaking off oppression," as Almontaser claims. The rampant violence and bloodshed resulting from these upheavals are blatantly obvious and very painful to those of us who hope for a lasting peace in the region.
While the city teachers' union initially took an open-minded approach to this school, both parents and teachers have every right to be concerned about children attending a school run by someone who doesn't instinctively denounce campaigns or ideas tied to violence.
A school bearing the name of the poet and painter should teach children about peace, not war-mongering, and principals should understand the difference.
In conversation with the New York Post, "Randi Rips 'Intifada' Principal," Weingarten elaborates on this letter.
Also, Assemblyman Dov Hikind has called a protest this on August 12, at 10 a.m. outside the offices of Chancellor Joel Klein, at 52 Chambers Street, in lower Manhattan, "asking for the removal of Debbie Almontaser as principal of KGIA."
Aug. 7, 2007 update: Things are heating up concerning Dhabah Almontaser.
(1) Almontaser's has retreated from her defense of the t-shirts. Under Department of Education auspices, issued a statement saying, "The word ‘intifada' is completely inappropriate as a T-shirt slogan. I regret suggesting otherwise. By minimizing the word's historical associations, I implied that I condone violence and threats of violence. That view is anathema to me."
(2) Despite this apology, calls for Almontaser's resignation or firing are coming in fast and furious:.
Assemblyman Dov Hikind: "It is an absolute outrage that she doesn't know what intifada is all about. This is not about shaking off - this is about carnage represented by blowing up pizza stores in Israel, blowing up buses."
Councilman Peter Vallone Jr.: "This woman should not be principal of any school."
A New York Post editorial, "Joel Klein's Choice":
Either she is a fool or she thinks New Yorkers are morons. Regardless, she has no business running a public school. … No doubt, Almontaser is right about the literal definition of "intifada." But if its generally accepted meaning were as benign as she insists, you can bet no one would be wearing it on a T-shirt. You can further bet that she knows it.
Now, if Dhabah Almontaser is going to be as disingenuous about something like this, why should New Yorkers believe her claim that "you won't find religious or political indoctrination or anti-Americanism" at her Khalil Gibran school? Or, if she really doesn't understand the difference, what is she doing with the job in the first place? … if [Schools Chancellor Joel] chooses to go ahead with this dubious enterprise [i.e., KGIA], he needs to do it with someone other than Dhabah "Debbie" Almontaser as principal.
Aug. 6, 2007 update: Relying on information from the "Stop the Madrassa Coalition," the New York Post in "City Principal Is ‘Revolting'" reports on ties between Almontaser and T-shirts with "Intifada NYC" written on them. This apparent call for a Palestinian-style uprising in the five boroughs is made available, Chuck Bennett and Jana Winter write, by an organization, Arab Women Active in Art and Media, that shares office space on Brooklyn's Third Avenue with the Saba Association of American Yemenis. Almontaser in turn is both a board member and the spokeswoman for the Saba Association.
When asked about the slogan on the these T-shirts, Almontaser broke her self-imposed silence and downplayed its significance.
The word [intifada] basically means "shaking off." That is the root word if you look it up in Arabic. I understand it is developing a negative connotation due to the uprising in the Palestinian-Israeli areas. I don't believe the intention is to have any of that kind of [violence] in New York City. I think it's pretty much an opportunity for girls to express that they are part of New York City society . . . and shaking off oppression.
While AWAAM refused comment, its co-founders, Rama Kased and Mona Eldahry, are active in al-Awda, whose main goal is to submerge Israel under a Palestinian influx.
Comments: (1) Almontaser's radical ties are deep and wide – the more one searches, the more apparent they become. (2) Exactly how are New York City's girls oppressed? (3) She probably should have remained silent, as her response cited above only aggravates the situation. The NYC Department of Education defended Almontaser, describing her link to the T-shirt as tenuous, which is true, but she now foolishly has defended the foul shirts. 4) Awaam is the colloquial Arabic pronunciation for qawwām, which translates as rebels or insurgents. And the word qawwām is written in Arabic script on the T-shirt, قوام.
Also today, John Matthies, my colleague and assistant director of Islamist Watch, is quoted in "NYC Officials Accused of Withholding Information on Arab School" wondering about KGIA's advisory board: "I don't know why all these religions are on the board. It's evenly divided among Christians, Jews, and Muslims, seemingly to allay concerns." To which Melody Meyer, spokeswoman for the city's Department of Education replied that the make-up of the advisory board had "absolutely" nothing to do with religion. "The board was chosen because they are people who could speak to the hearts and minds of the community. They were chosen based on their ability to communicate."
Comment: If you believe Meyer, I have a bridge to sell you, so you can get to the KGIA.
July 27, 2007 update: The San Diego Unified School District may have rejected Mary-Frances Stephens' allegations (see the July 2 entry), but it nonetheless had to change its practices, thereby substantiating her critique. Helen Gao writes at "Prayer OK at lunch, not classes at Carver" that "Carver Elementary's schedule will be reconfigured so students can say their required midday prayers during lunch," which is not a controversial time for praying in public American schools. In addition, the school will eliminate single-gender classes, Superintendent Carl Cohn indicated in a July 18 memo, because they have become "a serious distraction from learning rather than a vehicle to promote learning."
July 17, 2007 update: Beila Rabinowitz and William Mayer dig deeper into Dhabah Almontaser's associations at "Hamas Sympathizers Tied To Khalil Gibran International Academy?"
July 15, 2007 update: Charlestown High School in Massachusetts is one of eight schools nationally to teach Arabic during the summer months, drawing on federal funds to do so. Of course, it must have an Islamist component, which includes a session at the notorious Islamic Society of Boston, as Tracy Jan reports in the Boston Globe:
On July 7, the students visited the Islamic Society of Boston, a mosque in Cambridge's Central Square, where they sat in a circle on the carpet and learned about Islam from two mosque members. Peberlyn Moreta, 16, said she imagined that the women would be veiled head to toe, and was surprised to see only their heads covered. "I was afraid," said Moreta, a junior at Charlestown High. "I didn't want to offend anyone by the way I was dressed or by my cross."
Moreta, a Catholic who tucked her gold cross under her T-shirt, felt comfortable asking the mosque members why they fast and why women cover their hair. She also asked them to demonstrate a prayer, and they obliged for several minutes, standing and bending and kneeling while reciting parts of a prayer in Arabic, then translating it into English. "It took the fear out of the whole stereotype I had in my mind from the things I see on the news," Moreta said. "It's been a real awakening."
And the anti-Israel component of the curriculum also turns up, right on schedule:
Across the hall, another group of students watched the film Divine Intervention, a 2003 comic tragedy about love on both sides of the Palestinian-Israeli border. They giggled at the repeated scenes of a Palestinian woman holding hands with her lover. But the students quickly turned somber when their teacher, Lama Jarudi, delved into why some people martyr themselves in suicide bombings.
Jan paraphrases Jarudi, who lived in Lebanon until the age of nine, explaining that "she has received mixed feedback from family and friends about teaching Arabic" to Americans: "They fear that I'm helping Americans train more spies. I feel quite the opposite. Anyone who learns the Arabic language inherently has to understand the culture a little bit."
July 2, 2007 update: The San Diego Unified School District investigated Mary-Frances Stephens' allegations (that religious indoctrination was taking place in Carver Elementary School and that a school aide led Muslim students in prayer) and found them unsubstantiated.
June 29, 2007 update: In a curious piece, "Zionist Organization Supports Gibran School Principal: ADL Support Could Affect School's Success!" Antoine Faisal writes in Aramica that I
referred to the KGIA as an "Islamic madrassah,"' an intentional word choice by a journalist who knows that, while in Arabic, "Madrassah" simply means "school," in English it conjures up images of youngsters being indoctrinated in anti-Western ideology while cleaning their machine guns.
Two responses: (1) I have never written the term Islamic madrassah, so this is a falsehood. (2) Faisal is correct that the Arabic term carries quite different connotations in English, minus the machine guns I did precisely mean to raise precisely the picture of "youngsters being indoctrinated in anti-Western ideology."
June 25, 2007 update: In undated story by Amanda Millner-Fairbanks of Columbia University, Almontaser says about me and others that we are "loud minority voices based on ignorance, who equate Arab with Islam. Islam is a religion. It has no culture."
My response: (1) I think that, after nearly forty years studying Islam, not to speak of the Turkish and Persian languages, I can claim to realize that not all Muslims are Arabs. (2) Declaring that "Islam is a religion. It has no culture" is nonsense. Islam is a religion that has developed a distinct culture around it. Indeed, my first book, Slave Soldiers and Islam (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1981), is an exploration of this very complex and deep topic.
June 23, 2007 update: A new organization, "Stop the Madrassa Coalition" has come into being to stymie KGIA's opening in a couple of months. It boasts a website, www.stopthemadrassa.wordpress.com, and I am pleased to see that this blog gets the show started.
June 21, 2007 update: A "Dear Principals, Parents, Staff, and Community" letter went out from Garth Harries, dated June 19 and lists the many goodies to be doled out to make the KGIA's presence palatable to unhappy parents: new equipment, a dance studio, an upgraded technology lab, 48 stolen computers replaced (quite contrary to normal DoE policy), additional storage and shelving space, more air-conditioning, and so forth.
June 8, 2007 update: In an article, "New York is hell for young Osama," Chris Reiter of Reuters decries the circumstances of Osama Al-Najjar, 16, a New Yorker. After years of being taunted as "bin Laden" and "terrorist" at school, he attempted suicide in July 2006. Along the way, Reiter mentions the KGIA in the context of a school he could have gone to and been treated better, then notes that by getting started only for sixth graders in 2007, "opens too late for Osama."
Comment: This sort of attitude suggests that the KGIA is seen not as a place to teach the Arabic language but as a shelter for Arab-Americans from bias. Its goals appear more about therapy than security.
May 22, 2007 update: I published today a second column on the Khalil Gibran International Academy, "The Travails of Brooklyn's Arabic Academy."
May 19, 2007 update: In an interview, "Almontaser speaks! Gibran school principal stares down her critics," the KGIA principal-designate is asked about me by the left-wing Brooklyn Paper and replies:
Q: What do you say to conservative critics like Daniel Pipes, who called Arabic language instruction "inevitably laden with pan-Arabist and Islamist baggage?"
A: He studied the Arabic language as a Middle Eastern historian and he seems to have done really well at still maintaining his roots and his identity. And I'm confident that we will be able to teach students Arabic as a second language and make sure they maintain their identity as he has.
Comment: Clever reply but, as I noted in 2000 on my website, "Wilson Bishai and Annemarie Schimmel were my Arabic teachers." Neither of them were pan-Arabists or Islamists.
May 16, 2007 update: Looking at "an optional application for all 5th grade students in Brooklyn who are interested in applying to a New Middle School" titled "The New York City Department of Education 2007-2008 Middle School Application for New Brooklyn Schools Accepting 6th Graders," I note that today is the deadline for applying to the Khalil Gibran International Academy. One has to wonder how many parents of 5th graders have enrolled their children in a school whose location, the form indicates, is yet unknown ("Address To Be Announced"). An inquiry to "Enrollment Center - Region 8" about late applications indicates that maybe one a day late will be accepted.
May 15, 2007 update: At a PTA meeting to discuss KGIA's landing at 345 Dean Street, what are described as "a few outside agitators aiming to stir alarm about Khalil Gibran's focus on Arabic culture" raised some good questions about the projected school, according to an account at InsideSchools.org:
"Will the school teach Sharia law?" one attendee asked, referring to Islamic law. A parent shouted out, "Will Israel be on the maps?" "It's not about space, it's about indoctrination," shouted another.
Comment: The report implies that these "disrespectful" questions were brushed aside and not replied to.
May 9, 2007 update: The city Department of Education announced that it has found a location for the KGIA for the next two years. It will open doors at 345 Dean Street, in the same building as two other schools, the Brooklyn High School of the Arts and the Math & Science Exploratory School, and that's that: "This is not a tentative decision," said David Cantor, department spokesman. "The school will open at this site in September."
May 7, 2007 update: Garth Harries, the chief executive of the "Office of New Schools" at New York City's Department of Education, replied to one letter writer protesting the KGIA thus:
Subj: Khalil Gibran International Academy
Dear XX -
Thank you for writing Chancellor Klein regarding the Khalil Gibran International Academy (KGIA) and forwarding the message that you sent to Mayor Bloomberg. They have asked me to respond on their behalf.
KGIA is opening in partnership with New Visions for Public Schools, a nonprofit group that has helped create dozens of new small schools in recent years, and the Arab-American Family Support Center (AAFSC), a Brooklyn secular social service agency. The Khalil Gibran International Academy will be located in Brooklyn, serving grades 6 to 12, and will offer a challenging multicultural curriculum through standard and project-based learning. The program integrates intensive Arabic language instruction and the study of Middle Eastern history and historical figures to enliven learning across all subject areas. The goal is to prepare students for college and successful careers, and to foster an understanding of different cultures, a love of learning, and desire for excellence in all of its students. Here are some key points about the school:
- KGIA is a non-religious New York City public school. It is not a vehicle for political or religious ideology and if the school is used this way, we will close it.
- KGIA will follow New York City standard, non-screened enrollment policy and will serve students from diverse backgrounds, Arab and non-Arab alike.
- KGIA will adhere to all State and City educational standards.
- KGIA is not the first public school to teach Arabic; Fort Hamilton High School and Stuyvesant High School also teach Arabic
- New York City offers many other public school programs with cultural themes, including Asian studies and Latin American studies. New York City also has over 60 dual language programs, focusing on languages including Spanish, Haitian Creole, and Chinese.
In New York City, many public schools use themed-based approaches that help to inform and enrich curriculum across subject areas. KGIA resembles other second language intensive schools, like Shuang Wen Academy, which emphasize Chinese language and culture. KGIA is one such school with an Arabic language and Middle Eastern culture theme. KGIA may apply its theme by, for example, studying the ancient Arab approach to astronomy in science classes or studying the history of Arab instruments or tapestries in music and art classes.
Through its partnership with its lead partner, AAFSC, KGIA will offer students and their families a range of services including adult ESL, parenting classes, and leadership programs for youth. The school will also offer programs in conflict resolution, supported by Educators for Social Responsibility and the Tenanbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding, two non-profit organizations specializing in this area.
Your letter suggested that the school should include teachers from other faiths. While teachers are still being hired for the school, the planning team for the school included people from Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faiths and many cultural backgrounds, including Caribbean-, Hispanic-, Chinese-, Syrian-Jewish-, and Arab-Americans. As the school hires teachers, there can be no discrimination based on applicants' race, ethnicity or religion. Indeed the school hopes to have a diverse staff, similar to the planning team.
The Arabic curriculum will be developed by the school's multi-cultural staff and will be taught by staff from the Arab-American Family Support Center (AAFSC), with a New York State certified teacher in the classroom. KGIA will rely on their partner for Arabic language teachers because of a shortage of state certified Arabic teachers. As the school grows to capacity, the principal hopes to add Hebrew instruction to the elective course offerings at the school.
In addition, the leader of the school has participated in the A World of Difference training with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). Both the ADL and the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) have worked with the school leader and expressed their support for her.
Your letter also raised concern about the AAFSC and their sources of funding. The AAFSC is a secular social service agency with a long track record of helping New Yorkers. According to their website, the AAFSC receives major funding from
- New York City Administration for Children's Services (ACS)
- New York City Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD)
- New York State Office of Family and Children's Services
- Daphne Foundation
- Independence Community Foundation
- Jewish Board of Family and Children's Services
- Marilyn M. Simpson Charitable Trust
- National Network of Arab-American Communities
- New York Community Trust
- New York Foundation
- South Brooklyn Legal Services
- Taproot Foundation
- William T. Grant Foundation
- Community Resource Exchange
Thank you again for writing to the Chancellor.
Office of New Schools
May 6, 2007 update: In a puff piece on the KGIA (complete with nasty asides about the New York Sun coverage of this issue), the International Herald Tribune paraphrases Melanie Meyer, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education saying that the KGIA "will follow a college preparatory program, which involves a rather closely controlled course of study with required testing of results. So even if the new school has, say, the history of the Middle East taught in Arabic, it will most likely not play host to fanatics using the Koran to justify the cult of death." In a quote, Meyer then reiterates Klein's promise (see the May 5, 2007 update, above): "This school is not a tool for political or religious ideology, and we'll close it if it shows any indication that that's what it will become."
Also curious is this understanding of KGIA's purpose by the IHT article's author, Richard Bernstein: "Most people who knew about it seemed to see it as a reasonable gesture to an Arab immigrant community that often feels estranged from the surrounding American society." For that matter, Bosman in the New York Times (see the May 4, 2007 update, above) refers to KGIA as "conceived as a public embrace of New York City's growing Arab population and of internationalism." Foolish me – I thought the school was about Arabic-language instruction, when it seems really to be about a good-will gesture to Arabic-speakers.
May 5, 2007 update: The KGIA was supposed to share a building with a Brooklyn elementary school, PS 282 in Park Slope, but the parents there all along protested this intrusion on the grounds that younger children should not be mixed with older ones. News comes today that the parents got their way and the Department of Education has dropped plans for the shared building idea, conceding that "Siting the Khalil Gibran International Academy at the school would be detrimental to its core academic programs." But the department insists this decision is just logistical and unrelated to the controversy over the school's very existence, and that it remains committed to opening the school.
Almontaser was quoted saying that the parents' concerns were "valid" and she was not disappointed by the decision. She also says religion is not part of the KGIA curriculum but the Arabs' culture, history, and "contributions" are. "With any language that you learn you need to learn about the people and their customs and their history to develop effectively in that language, in order not to offend people when speaking the language." She has to say this, for Joel Klein a few days earlier stated that "If any school became a religious school, as some people say Khalil Gibran would be, … I would shut it down. I promise you that."
In response to Militant Islam Monitor's noting of Almontaser's fashion changes (see Apr. 16, 2007 update, above), Almontaser says, "I have to say that I'm really flattered. I'm flattered that there's so much attention being paid to me, especially about how I dress."
Comment: How does Klein reconcile the completely religious nature of KGIA's advisory council (see the Apr. 28, 2007 update above) with his assertion now that "If any school became a religious school, as some people say Khalil Gibran would be, … I would shut it down"?
May 4, 2007 update: Almontaser claims not to be upset by objections to the KGIA: "Quite frankly, I don't let it bother me. I don't lose sleep over it. My main objective is the opening of the school." This quote comes in a puff piece by Julie Bosman in the New York Times, "Plan for Arabic School in Brooklyn Spurs Protests," where the debate over KGIA is deemed "a test of tolerance — and its limits — in post-9/11, multiethnic New York." As for Almontaser, Bosman describes her as someone who "who organized peace rallies and urged tolerance after the attacks of Sept. 11" and "known as a moderate active in interfaith groups," then provides many quotes in her favor. The criticism of her is called "preposterous," "heartbreaking," and" outrageous."
The article does contain some news, specifically:
- The New York City school chancellor, Joel I. Klein, "is considering other locations for the school, or even postponing the opening for a year. … Since a location has not been confirmed yet, the Education Department has not been able to accept applications formally. At this point in the year, most fifth graders already know where they will be attending sixth grade in the fall."
- The school is to enroll 81 students for the 2007-08 school year in the sixth grade only.
- "Almontaser said she planned a curriculum that was not religion-based, and that would include the history and contributions of the Arab people." Comment: "include the history and contributions of the Arab people" suggests can be benign or not; again, this school requires special supervision.
And I am quoted in this article saying, "What you find is that the materials that are included in an Arabic curriculum have a natural tendency to promote Islam."
Apr. 28, 2007 update: In a comment on this article on the New York Sun site, one of the members of the KGIA Advisory Council, Daniel Meeter, helpfully provides a list of that council's makeup:
- Rev. Dr. Daniel Meeter, Old First Reformed Church
- Rev. Dr. Calvin Butts, Abyssinian Baptist Church
- Rev. Dr. Charles H. Straut Jr., The Riverside Church
- Rev. Khader N. El-Yateem, Salem Arabic Lutheran Church
- Rabbi Andy Backman, Congregation Beth Elohim
- Rabbi Melissa Weintraub, Rabbis for Human Rights
- Rabbi Micah Kelber, The Bay Ridge Jewish Center
- Lisel Burns, Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture
- Imam Talib Abdul-Rashid, Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood, Harlem
- Imam Shamsi Ali, 96th St. Mosque, Manhattan
- Imam Khalid Latif, Chaplain, NYPD
Comment: If the KGIA has no religious content, then why is every one of its advisory council members a reverend, rabbi, or imam, plus one Ethical Culture representative? Is this not a blatant contradiction?
Apr. 24, 2007 update: I have written a column on this subject, "A Madrasa Grows in Brooklyn."
Apr. 16, 2007 update: A later version of the same AP story, now titled "Proposed NYC Public School Causes Stir," provides some key differences. (1) Almontaser now asserts that the school will teach the Arab-Israeli conflict, confirming my concern above:
"Being that we are a public school, we certainly are not going to be teaching religion," said Almontaser, 39. "Islam does not have a culture. Islam is a religion." She said the school won't shy away from sensitive topics such as colonialism and the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. "Teachers are going to be expected to provide students with multiple perspectives on whatever the issue is," Almontaser said. "Students will, through the critical-thinking skills that they will develop, make informed decisions on the perspective that they want to believe."
(2) The reporter, Nahal Toosi, adds that the school "would be one of a few nationwide that incorporate the Arabic language and Islamic culture." Note the quiet insertion of Islamic culture, however, just as I predicted.
Also today, William A. Mayer and Beila Rabinowitz provide three important new pieces of information about principal-designate Dhabah Almontaser.
First, during the trial of Shahawar Matin Siraj for attempting to blow up the Herald Square subway station in Manhattan, a case that relied on informants, New York Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly met with a group of 150 Muslims to hear their "concerns about issues of public safety." According to a New York Times report on the meeting: "Debbie Almontaser, a board member of a Muslim women's organization [Women In Islam, Inc.], told Mr. Kelly that she was saddened that the police had resorted to ‘F.B.I. tactics,' and that she thought this was polarizing the Muslim community. Applause swept the room." As Mayer and Rabinowitz note, "In Almontaser's insular world, preventing a crime that could have killed hundreds is viewed as ‘polarizing.'"
Second, Almontaser denies that Arab Muslims carried out the 9/11 atrocities, telling sixth-graders she taught: "I don't recognize the people who committed the attacks as either Arabs or Muslims."
Third, Almontaser likened the American response to 9/11 to that of a totalitarian regime: "Right here in this community ...we stated to see people literally disappearing. ... The police came and took them in the middle of the night and we were, like, ‘What is going on?'"
In a separate posting, Beila Rabinowitz points out Almontaser's fashion evolution of late, from frumpy cowl to chic headscarf with jewelry. Wonder why she'd do that.
Comment: Making Almontaser the principal of KGIA virtually guarantees troubles ahead.
Apr. 14, 2007 update: Almontaser replies to my critique that in practice, "Arabic instruction is heavy with Islamist and Arabist overtones and demands" in an Associated Press article, "Plans for NYC Arabic school draw protests, ‘jihad' labels":
"Being that we are a public school, we certainly are not going to be teaching religion," said Almontaser, 39. "Islam does not have a culture. Islam is a religion." How will the school teach about sensitive topics such as colonialism and the Israeli-Palestinian crisis? "Teachers are going to be expected to provide students with multiple perspectives on whatever the issue is," Almontaser said. "Students will, through the critical-thinking skills that they will develop, make informed decisions on the perspective that they want to believe. It's going to be quite difficult to do, but that is a priority."
Apr. 13, 2007 update: In "Khalil Gibran School - A Jihad Grows in Brooklyn," Beila Rabinowitz and William A. Mayer provide extensive information on "the players within the Arabic community who are KGIA's primary advocates and who will be intimately involved in designing and running it." Specifically, they look in detail at four individuals – Dhabah ( "Debbie") Almontaser, Emira Habiby-Browne, Ahmad Jaber, Assad Jebara – and two organizations (the Arab American Family Support Center and Alwan for the Arts). The authors term the KGIA a "program built on a series of lies, whose only function will be to divide" and predict that it will be a "government-funded madrassah."
Apr. 11, 2007 update: A case from San Diego, California, confirms my point that, if unchecked, Arabic language instruction brings with it religious indoctrination. Helen Gao writes up the story of Carver Elementary, a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade institution that has had an Arabic program since September, at "Legality of Arabic Class Questioned."
A teacher, Mary-Frances Stephens, told the school board yesterday about her experiences since being assigned to Carver on March 8: according to Gao,
she said she taught a "segregated class" of Muslim girls. She said she was given a lesson plan that included an hour for prayer. She alleged that a teacher's aide led the prayer. Stephens told the school board, "What I saw is clearly a violation of administrative, legislative and judicial guidelines."
To these charges, the principal, Kimberlee Kidd, said Stephens misconstrued the lesson plan. But, Gao, relates, Kidd "confirmed that an assistant was assigned to the classroom for an hour. During that time there was a 15-minute recess. … The aide, who is Muslim, prayed alongside the students but did not lead the prayer."
Mar. 16, 2007 update: (1) A number of readers have pointed out, correctly, that the above excerpt includes a mistake in it; contrary to Garith Harries, no "Arabic mathematician invented the concept of zero." Zero was an Indian invention that the Arabs adopted. As a reader puts it, "Harries really let the cat out of the bag, revealing that the new school with be ethnic cheerleading at its worst." Another reason not to establish this school. (2) John Abi-Habib has written me to indicate that the Sun misreported the spelling of his name.
Mar. 10, 2007 update: It turns out that my abstract concern has real substance to it. Beila Rabinowitz establishes that the school's principal, Dhabah (or "Debbie") Almontaser received an award from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and that the school was designed in part by the American-Arab Anti Discrimination Committee (ADC). Need one say more? CAIR is an Islamist group that is on the enemy's side in the war on terror while ADC includes a motley collection of leftist and Islamist extremists. Their association with this school confirms my worries about it. I again call for it not to be opened.
March 7, 2007
Sarah Garland reports in the New York Sun about Brooklyn's soon-to-be-established Khalil Gibran International Academy:
A new public secondary school that is to include Middle Eastern studies in its curriculum will focus on culture, not the region's political conflicts, Department of Education officials said yesterday. "The school will not be a vehicle for political ideology," a Department of Education spokesman, David Cantor, said of the Khalil Gibran International Academy, due to open this September in Brooklyn.
As for the sorts of topics the school will cover, the CEO of the Office of New Schools, Garth Harries, gave as an example a math lesson plan that would mention that an Arabic mathematician invented the concept of zero. "It's going to follow Department of Education regulations," the director of the Arab-American Family Support Center, Lena Alhusseini, who helped design the school, said. "It's going to be exactly like all the schools in the city, the same curriculum."
My take on the school: In principle it is a great idea – the United States needs more Arabic-speakers. In practice, however, Arabic instruction is heavy with Islamist and Arabist overtones and demands. For one powerful first-hand example of this problem at the collegiate level, see "Middlebury's Arabic Morass" by Franck Salameh. He explains:
even as students leave Middlebury with better Arabic, they also leave indoctrinated with a tendentious Arab nationalist reading of Middle Eastern history. Permeating lectures and carefully-designed grammatical drills, Middlebury instructors push the idea that Arab identity trumps local identities and that respect for minority ethnic and sectarian communities betrays Arabism.
For another specific case, see Shukri B. Abed, Focus on Contemporary Arabic: Conversations with Native Speakers (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007); YUP conveniently has posted the table of contents (if backwards), where one chapter deals with "The Question of Palestine." The chapter contains eleven readings. To give an example of their flavor, the fifth of them states that the "Palestinian problem" is at base an issue of justice in which the Palestinians are the victims of a double standard.
For the heavy Islamic freight that Arabic instruction carries, see "Does Learning Arabic Prevent Moral Decay?" where one learns that some Muslims believe "Knowledge of Arabic can then help the Western countries recover from the present moral decay." (This is not as surprising as it sounds, for Muslims commonly assume that a non-Muslim who learns Arabic is en route to conversion to Islam; I experienced this many times during my Cairo years.) Evidence from Algeria also points to the impact of Arabic instruction, as documented in James Coffman's breakthrough 1995 article "Does the Arabic Language Encourage Radical Islam?" He compared Algerian students taught in French versus those taught in Arabic and found that
Arabized students show decidedly greater support for the Islamist movement and greater mistrust of the West. Arabized students tend to repeat the same simplistic stories and rumors that abound in the Arabic-language press, particularly Al-Munqidh, the newspaper of the Islamic Salvation Front. They tell about sightings of the word "Allah" written in the afternoon sky, the infiltration into Algeria of Israeli women spies infected with AIDS, the "disproving" of Christianity on a local religious program, and the mass conversion to Islam by millions of Americans. I was not the only one to notice this distinction. When asked if the new, Arabized students differed from the other students, many students and faculty answered an emphatic yes.
Coffman also find a similar trend in other Arabic-speaking countries:
because Arabs draw so close a connection between classical Arabic and the faith of Islam, Arabization invariably leads to an identification with the (supranational) Islamic religious tradition. Even the most secular Arab nationalits (such as the Ba‘thist variants in Syria and Iraq) must appeal to Islamic symbolism to bolster sagging legitimacy and to mobilize the masses (as Saddam Husayn did in his wars against Iran and the U.S.-led coalition). Hence, Arab nationalism has, however inadvertently, contributed to the rise of Islamism. Indeed, today's Islamist surge is the natural, perhaps inevitable consequence of the Arab nationalist policies of thirty years ago.
The Sun article additionally indicates that the KGIA will serve as a place to make Arab students feel at home. "While Khalil Gibran's organizers say the school's main focus is academic, they also said the school could help to integrate Arab families into New York society by providing the school community with health services, counseling, youth leadership development, and English as a second language classes for parents." The article quotes Moustafa Bayoumi, a professor at Brooklyn College and co-editor of The Edward Said Reader, saying that "It's not uncommon for Arab students to feel isolated — I think it's seen as a foothold." That the school is in large part intended for native Arabic-speakers to learn English is supported by the "English Language Learner Grants" for which it is eligible. The school sounds like a place to indulge Arab grievances and support Arab immigrants. It worries me that the school's purpose is not really to teach Arabic to non-Arabs.
For all these reasons, an Arabic-language school in New York needs to be held under special scrutiny.
But political correctness will make such scrutiny impossible. One can see the kernel of this denial in the statement by John Ali-Habib, vice chairman of Brooklyn's Republican Party and a member of the school's planning committee: "There's an Asian school opening in Flushing. It's the same thing." But it's precisely not the same thing.
Therefore, unless such controls are clearly put in place, I am opposed to the opening of this school. (March 7, 2007)