NEW YORK—In what could be its third location in one year, the controversial Arab middle and high school Khalil Gibran International Academy (KGIA) may move to PS 287 in the Forte Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn, according to a meeting held between New York City Department of Education official Garth Harries and parents of PS 287 last Wednesday.
Since Arabic culture is closely intertwined with the religion of Islam, the school has raised concerns among parents and advocates because of its potential for betraying the separation of Church and State and providing a potential breeding ground for future terrorists.
Parents of PS 287 last Wednesday used the meeting as an opportunity to voice concerns that their elementary school age children shouldn't have to share space with a high school, which they currently do with one high school and would continue to do with KGIA. As the economy worsens, it's a situation that many schools face.
"It's not safe to be with high school kids. They're out of control. We can't bring kids into the playground," said one parent. Parent also raised concerns that KGIA's curriculum is not being transparent.
"The school is so secretive, how can you ask us to have a school here if we don't know what's going on?" said one parent at the Wednesday meeting.
Addressing Mr. Harries, another apparent asked, "Are you here to help all schools or are you here to focus on a particular race, religion, and community? You're focused on the success of KGIA. You are not concerned with the success of our school."
"Go back and tell the Chancellor the answer is no, no, no…. Tell the Chancellor you don't mix Church and State," said another parent.
Stop the Madrassa, a grass roots group that has rallied against the school, said in a Monday press release: "The Mayor and Chancellor of this city are evidently more concerned about continuing a failed experiment in 'multi-culturalism' than they are for the students of New York City in general, and of PS 287 in particular."
The word "Madrassa" literally refers to a school that teaches Arabic language and culture, but has become associated with terrorist training.
Stop the Madrassa also points to a lack of transparency in the school's curriculum and poses a series of questions on their website including: "How will wudu, or the process of ritual washing—which must precede prayer—take place? In the public lavatories?" and "How will the prayer requests of KGIA's Muslim students be accommodated in a public school?"
And they have never received full answers, said Sara Springer, co-founder of Stop the Madrassa and a city public school teacher herself.
"We have had four Freedom of Information Act requests and four court hearings so far. The DOE has not fully disclosed the information requested and we are still waiting for all documents to be forwarded," she said.
The City's Department of Education has maintained all along that KGAI does not have a religious or political curriculum.
"If any school became a religious school, as some people say Khalil Gibran would be, or it became a national school, in the sense that it really wasn't an American public school, I would shut it down," said Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, in an interview with NY1 news last Fall. "I promise you that."
Before the school even opened, KGIA's principal Debbie Almontaser resigned after she was quoted as defending a t-shirt that said "Intifada NYC." "Intifada" is often taken to mean an Islamic uprising.
Almontaser, a Muslim, is currently suing the City's Department of Education over claims that she was forced to resign.
Currently, Holly Ann Reichert, an Arabic-fluent non-Muslim, is serving as principal of KGIA. Some students and Arabic community members said that they prefer Almontaser, including Fatin Jarara, whose younger sister attends KGIA.
"In appointing Holly Reichert as the new principal [the Department of Education] pretend that they have solved all problems, but when I asked my sister about how the school is like since then she tells me that it gradually gets worse. Ms. Reichert seemingly does not have the leadership skills it takes to manage the school well," said Jara in a statement.
The Department of Education did return phone calls regarding PS 287 and KGIA as of press time.