NEW YORK: Enrollment is nearly full at an Arabic-themed academy that will open next week in New York with extra security after months of protest by some who say it will be a training ground for radicals.
As of Monday, 53 students were enrolled in the Khalil Gibran International Academy, the city's first school to offer instruction in Arabic and on Arab culture.
The cap is 60 students for this year, said Department of Education spokeswoman Melody Meyer.
"We need more Arabic speakers in this country, and that's part of the reason this school is being opened," Meyer said.
Khalil Gibran is starting with sixth graders and will expand with one additional class every year to end up with 500 to 600 students in grades 6-12. It joins a number of small public city schools that are themed, covering areas from the arts to social justice to Chinese language.
The school is named after a Christian Lebanese poet who promoted peace.
Since plans to open the school were announced in February, critics have attacked it as a potential training ground for radicals.
Khalil Gibran's original principal, Yemeni-born Muslim Debbie Almontaser, left earlier this month after criticism for her failure to condemn the use of the highly charged word "intifada" on T-shirts produced by an Arab women's community group that uses office space shared by an organization that has Almontaser as a board member.
Almontaser was replaced by acting interim principal Danielle Salzberg, a Jewish woman who does not speak Arabic.
Meyer said there are no special plans for the first day of school, but education officials will provide extra security because of the controversy.
An organization called the Friends of Gibran Council issued a press release Tuesday saying the school would not honor the legacy of the poet.
A spokesman for the council said Wednesday the organization was formed this year in part to prevent the school from "hijacking the name of this great artist."