MANHATTAN – The U.S. Court of Appeals has ordered an expedited review of the Debbie Almontaser case.
The former Brooklyn Arabic-school principal was denied a preliminary injunction last week, which she had sought in order to prevent the city Department of Education (DOE) from appointing a new principal to Khalil Gibran International Academy (KGIA).
Almontaser appealed that decision by federal District Judge Sidney Stein, and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ordered an expedited review of that appeal on the following day.
Her appeal, which argues that her resignation was forced and that it violated her constitutional right to free speech, seeks to ultimately reclaim her position as the principal of KGIA. The widely publicized case has drawn considerable amounts of both criticism and support for Almontaser and the Arabic-language school, which she helped found earlier this year on Dean Street in Boerum Hill.
There had been speculation that the Department of Education would appoint a new principal last Friday, Dec. 7, but no appointment was made. According to DOE spokeswoman Melody Meyer, it is unknown when that decision will come.
"There's a bit of confusion about that," Meyer said. "The reason people are buzzing about a principal being appointed [last] week is that Friday [was] the first day the DOE could appoint a principal."
However, even if the DOE had made a decision on which of the final four applicants will be offered the job, the decision could be invalidated by the court. The DOE had narrowed the pool of 25 applicants down to four candidates. Almontaser, who reapplied for the position, was not selected as one of the finalists.
"If the Department of Education appoints a principal while the appeal is pending, the Court of Appeals has the power to undo that appointment," said Alan Levine, one of Almontaser's attorneys. "By its grant of expedited review, the court is acknowledging its willingness to do so, if it finds that the DOE violated Ms. Almontaser's constitutional rights."
Almontaser contends that her First Amendment rights were violated by the DOE when, she claims, it forced her to be interviewed by the New York Post and then forced her to resign based on the comments that she made. The comments she made to the newspaper over the summer were in regard to the term "intifada," which some say is a word connected to Islamic terrorists and Palestinian support groups.
Almontaser contends her comments were constitutionally protected. The federal district court ruled that they were not -- due, in part, to its determination that she was making those comments as a public employee.
A public employee, speaking in his or her professional capacity, is not afforded the same free-speech rights as a private citizen.