BROOKLYN — Sara Springer, a Brooklyn teacher who is one of the founders of the "Stop the Madrassa Coalition," a group long opposed to New York City's first Arabic-themed school — the Khalil Gibran International Academy in Boerum Hill — has joined a lawsuit against the New York City Department of Education (DOE), claiming that the agency failed to respond adequately to a request for information about the school's textbooks and curriculum.
Springer and other members of the coalition, including the group's Brooklyn-born president Stuart Kaufman, fear that textbooks and other teaching materials will be supplied by the Saudi-tied Council on Islamic Education, and that taxpayer dollars will be supporting "terrorist cells."
"In this kind of insulated environment there is too great an opportunity for people with ulterior motives to inculcate our children with anti-western values," Kaufman told the Brooklyn Eagle Monday.
"Ms. Almontaser at her press conference accused us of stalking her – we have stalked nobody," Kaufman said. "We're the ones who are called racist, participants in high-tech lynchings, and called intolerant. We are just expressing fears that are founded in reality and we refuse to be victims."
According to a release sent out Monday by the Stop the Madrassa Community Coalition, the group wants the Department of Education to provide a complete list of the textbooks, lesson plans and design documents to be used at the Khalil Gibran school.
As reported in the Brooklyn Eagle last July, Stop the Madrassa sent a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request letter to Gov. Eliot Spitzer, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Chancellor Joel Klein and other city and state officials. The letter requested release of 14 categories of documents concerning Khalil Gibran, which opened in September after months of controversy.
The action taken last week is an Article 78 proceeding in state Supreme Court, a type of lawsuit used to challenge action (or inaction) by agencies and officers of state and local government. Connie Pankratz, a spokesperson for the New York City Law Department, told the Brooklyn Eagle Monday, "We've just received the legal documents and are currently reviewing them."
Painting the School as ‘Islamist'
The "Stop the Madrassa" group which – according to the New York Sun, includes roughly 70 community members, some parents and at least one city teacher – has repeatedly attempted to link the planned Arabic-themed school to various terrorist organizations.
However, supporters of Khalil Gibran, such as the Rabbi Michael Feinberg of the Greater NY Labor-Religion Coalition, claim that the Stop the Madrassa organization itself is backed "by extremist right-wing organizations such as the Gathering of Eagles; NY-ICE (New Yorkers for Immigration Control and Enforcement) and the United American Committee."
Melody Meyer, spokesperson for the Department of Education, told the Eagle Monday that as a policy of the DOE, "We don't comment on pending litigation."
But about the group that brought the lawsuit, she said, "All you need to know about Stop the Madrassa is that the lawyer who represents them has a Web site that rejects democracy and suggests that America has declined because it has become less white."
Much of the Requested Information Published in Brooklyn Eagle
At the time of the original FOIL request in July, Sara Springer, a Brooklyn resident who is a member of the coalition, issued a statement saying, "To date, despite numerous requests, the city has provided no explanation to members of the coalition or the public at large about the precise nature of the curricula, the textbooks that will be used, the publishers of those texts, or the lesson plans."
While the full extent of the group's request for information was not received by press time, it appears that much of the information requested was published in the Brooklyn Eagle in July (see below). At that time, DOE's Meyer detailed the curriculum, textbooks and teacher certification process used by the Khalil Gibran school for this paper.
Almontaser, the founder of the school, has said she was pressured into resigning on August 10 after not immediately condemning another organization's use of the phrase "IntifadaNYC" on T-shirts. This followed a rising crescendo of attacks on the school — and on Almontaser herself — from the Stop the Madrassa group and conservative Web sites and newspapers, including the New York Sun and the New York Post.
After Almontaser's resignation, the city Department of Education appointed Danielle Salzberg as interim principal of the school. Almontaser, who wishes to be reinstated as principal of Khalil Gibran, has indicated that she may file a lawsuit against the DOE.
Curriculum, Textbooks and Teacher Certification Process
In July, the Department of Education provided the Brooklyn Eagle with the following information:
"The school has chosen from curricula that has been approved and designated for New York City public schools," DOE spokesperson Melody Meyer told the Brooklyn Eagle. "For math, they've ordered Impact Math; for science, they've chosen Option C, published by Harcourt. In humanities, they're using the Social Studies Module approved for the 6th grade. They're also using the Teachers' College Reading and Writing Workshops, and they've ordered the Arabic Language Library from Scholastic, which translates English children's books into Arabic."
In a nutshell, "They're using the same curriculum packages as other New York City public schools," Meyer said.
As to the teacher certification question, Meyer said that Principal Debbie Almontaser had been "hiring teachers through the summer. She's hired two Arab-Americans, plus Irish, Greek, Jewish and West Indian teachers — certainly a diverse group."
All of the teachers are certified, Meyer said. While New York State "doesn't offer certificates in Arab-language instruction, all of the teachers are certified including the Arab-language teachers — one in math, the other in humanities."