NEW YORK: The former principal of an Arabic-themed public school cannot immediately force New York City to give her another shot at getting her job back, a federal appeals court said Thursday.
But Debbie Almontaser may still pursue the matter at a trial, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said.
The panel agreed with a lower court that Almontaser was acting in her official capacity during a controversial news interview she gave as interim principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy.
She sued the city, saying she was denied her First Amendment rights and was forced to resign in August claims the Department of Education denies.
In the interview, Almontaser, a longtime New York educator and a Muslim of Yemeni descent, discussed the history and definition of "intifada," a term commonly used to refer to the Palestinian uprising against Israel. Critics said Almontaser should have condemned the use of the word on T-shirts made by a youth organization.
In December, the lower court judge, Sidney H. Stein, had refused to immediately halt the search for a new principal and to find that Almontaser's First Amendment rights were violated. He noted that Almontaser had been instructed by Education press staff not to discuss the T-shirts.
The appeals court said it was not "called upon to address the more complex issue presented by this case, namely, whether a public employee, who is required by her employer to speak to the press as a condition of her employment, may be sanctioned for speaking accurately when her statement is, as her employer knows, inaccurately reported and then misconstrued by the press."
The school, which opened last September with about 60 students and emphasizes Arab language and culture, is named for the Lebanese Christian poet and peace advocate. A new principal was hired in January.
Alan Levine, a lawyer for Almontaser, said he will ask Stein to conduct a trial on the matter. Stein's original ruling occurred before witnesses could be heard and more evidence gathered.
City law department spokeswoman Connie Pankratz said the city was pleased with the ruling.