The principal of the city's only Arabic-language public school stepped down abruptly on Tuesday, just days after a federal commission determined that the city had discriminated against the school's founding principal by forcing her to resign after a flurry of controversy.
The latest principal to resign, Holly Anne Reichert, sent a letter to parents on Monday saying that it would be her last day at the school, the Khalil Gibran International Academy in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, and that Beshir Abdellatif would become interim acting principal on Tuesday.
Ms. Reichert will become a literacy coach at a different school. Mr. Abdellatif has been principal of Law, Government and Community Service High School in Queens since fall 2008.
Mr. Abdellatif, 52, is a former assistant principal of Bayside High School in Queens; he began teaching social studies at Grover Cleveland High School in Queens in 1994. Education officials said he was from Tunisia, had lived in the United States for 27 years and was a secular Muslim.
A lawyer for the founding principal, Debbie Almontaser, a Muslim of Yemeni descent, said he found the timing of the move "curious" and suggested that it was a "cynical ploy" intended to divide supporters of the school and of Ms. Almontaser.
"I think it's an attempt to blunt the force of the finding of discrimination," said the lawyer, Alan Levine, who also suggested that Ms. Almontaser should have been reappointed. The Department of Education, he said, "might have the good graces to say, 'This is the person we wanted, and that's who we are going to appoint,' but good graces never distinguish themselves in these situations."
David Cantor, a spokesman for the department, said Ms. Reichert had left the school to become a literacy coach at the East-West School of International Studies in Queens. Mr. Cantor said the department first learned of Ms. Reichert's plans to leave in mid-February.
Ms. Almontaser and the school had faced criticism from the moment in early 2007 that the department announced plans to open it. But the controversy boiled over after some critics tried to tie her to T-shirts with the slogan "Intifada NYC" that were being sold by an organization of Arab women.
Education officials later pressured her to talk about the shirts with The New York Post, which published an article saying she had played down their significance. She said The Post had distorted her words.
Ms. Almontaser resigned on Aug. 10, 2007, before the school even opened. Danielle Salzberg, who is Jewish, was appointed interim acting principal and served for several months.
In a letter last week, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission agreed that Ms. Almontaser's comments to The Post had been misconstrued. It said that in forcing her out, the Education Department had "succumbed to the very bias that creation of the school was intended to dispel, and a small segment of the public succeeded in imposing its prejudices on D.O.E. as an employer."
A lawyer for the city denied any wrongdoing.
Ms. Reichert, a Christian, was appointed principal of the school in January 2008 after working in the city schools for nearly a decade. At the time, Education Department officials cited her knowledge of Arabic and her time in the Arab world, including working as a Peace Corps volunteer in Yemen and teaching in Cairo and Bahrain.
In a statement provided to reporters by New Visions, the nonprofit organization that helps oversee the school, Ms. Reichert said she decided to transfer a month ago "but stayed on this week while we planned the leadership transition."
"I felt I had taken the school as far as I could and was looking for a new professional opportunity," she said.
Midyear resignations for principals are rare, although the department said it could not provide any numbers.
Through Mr. Cantor, Mr. Abdellatif declined to comment. Mr. Cantor said Mr. Abdellatif applied for the principal's position at the school in fall 2007 but did not have the proper certification at the time.
The school, which started with sixth-grade students and is eventually expected to serve students up to the 12th grade, has had several problems since it opened its doors. Enrollment dropped in its second year and just one-third of the sixth graders passed the state math exam last year. In 2008, the school had one of the highest rates of suspensions in the city.