The Khalil Gibran International Academy, the much-embattled Arabic-English bilingual public school in Brooklyn, appears to be losing support.
KGIA opened on Sept. 4 last fall, but 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. "Madrassa" refers to religious Islamic school.
Meanwhile, some school supporters are calling for the return of founding principal Debbie Almontaser, who resigned after she was quoted in the New York Post defending a school T-shirt that carried the word "intifada," an Arabic word that has been applied to multiple uprisings in the Middle East over the past few decades.
Many people disapproved of Almontaser's statement, fearing that the word "intifada" confirmed the public's initial concerns with the school's potential Islamic undertones.
"The comment was a bit inappropriate," said Lena Alhusseini, executive director of the Arab American Family Support Center. But she stressed that the school does not reflect the word's explosive connotations.
"The school is non-political and non-sectarian," she said. "Politics and religion have no place in the public school."
Holly Ann Reichert was appointed as the new principal of KGIA this past January after Almontaser's resignation. Her appointment was the decision of the New York City Department of Education, said Bret Denning, director of development of the AAFSC.
Fatin Jarara, whose younger sister attends KGIA, spoke out about her displeasure with the differences between the school's founding vision and how things have played out.
"Ms. Reichert seemingly does not have the leadership skills it takes to manage the school well," Jarara said in a press release.
Jarara said that Almontaser is the rightful leader of the school, but the DOE said that Almontaser will not be returning.
"There is no chance," DOE spokeswoman Melody Meyer said. "She resigned."
Almontaser is currently filing a lawsuit against the DOE to uphold her first amendment rights, according to the Communities in Support of KGIA website. Almontaser says that KGIA violated her right to free speech by forcing her to resign from her post after the "intifada" comment.
In addition to the reported managerial problems, teachers at the school have said KGIA has been provided with inadequate space, inadequate materials and has not been able 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.
Amani Hassan, an Arabic professor at NYU, said that the resources an Arabic teacher needs "are a good textbook, a language lab, internet usage from time to time or access to some good Arabic TV channels." But KGIA teachers said that they lack these basic tools.
"KGIA has such talented teachers and staff that if we are given the proper setting, tools, materials and leadership, KGIA would be one of the top schools in the five boroughs," KGIA science teacher Sean R. Grogan said in a press release.
Meyer said the school's problems are not purely financial.
"This is not a funding issue," Meyer said, adding that the school will probably be moving locations in the fall, which will resolve space issues. As for supplies, she said that the school has a complete Arabic library.
For KGIA teachers like Grogan, however, the school's problems go beyond books.
"The school has been abandoned by all those who claim to support it," he said.