CENTRE STREET -- A ruling by Manhattan Federal Court Judge Sidney Stein Wednesday will mean the Department of Education will not be forced to reconsider Debbie Almontaser's application to be reinstated as principal of Brooklyn Arabic language school the Khalil Gibran Academy. Stein ruled that Almontaser's lawsuit, alleging that the DOE had violated her First Amendment rights in forcing her to resign the position after a controversial August interview in the New York Post, was unfounded. However, the DOE will delay its announcement of a permanent principal from tomorrow until Friday to allow Almontaser to take her case before the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals.
DOE attorney James Lemonedes said that he felt Stein's decision would hold up, and the department would be allowed to go ahead.
"We feel the judge made a well-reasoned decision," he said. "There's a time to appoint a principal, and that time is now."
He would comment as to whom, of the four final candidates, has been chosen to fill the post. Stein said that Almontaser's speech was not protected under the First Amendment because she was acting as an employee of the school rather than a private citizen when she was interviewed by the Post, citing a 2006 U.S. Supreme Court precedent in the case of Garcetti v. Ceballos.
Stein pointed to Almontaser's own testimony, wherein she said that she didn't even want to give an interview to the Post because she felt the newspaper was adverse and disruptive to the school. Rather, it was not of her own accord but at the urging of the DOE press office that she gave the Aug. 5 interview with Post reporter Chuck Bennett. Press office employee Melody Meyer mediated the interview.
"The Department of Education's press office was intimately involved with that interview," said Stein. "The plaintiff's comments to the Post were manifestly part of her duties."
Stein also said Almontaser's comments and the media controversy surrounding her were potentially disruptive enough to justify the DOE's decision not to rehire her. Almontaser's attorney, Alan Levine, said the "disruption" was blown out of proportion and was not affecting the opening of the school. "With all due respect, it was some calls from some parents," he said, adding that he felt Stein had reached "the outer limits in deference to an employer" in his decision for the public schools.
Almontaser was asked to resign from the position after making comments about a group producing "Intifada NYC" T-shirts in a New York Post article last summer. In the article, she explained the root meaning of the word intifada, without expressly condemning the T-shirts or the organization producing them.
She re-applied for the position in October but did not make it on to the final list of candidates. She filed suit against the DOE on Nov. 19, also naming Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Deputy Mayor Dennis Wolcott as defendants.