In spite of last week's ruling by the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that the Department of Education (DOE) discriminated against Debbie Almontaser when they forced her to resign as principal of Brooklyn's Khalil Gibran International Academy (KGIA), the city says it won't even consider reinstating her.
Paul Marks, deputy chief of labor and employment law for the NYC Law Department, said in a statement to the Brooklyn Eagle, "The EEOC's finding is without any basis whatsoever. The DOE in no way discriminated against Ms. Almontaser, and she will not be reinstated. If she continues to pursue litigation, we will vigorously defend against her groundless allegations."
Almontaser, the founding principal of the city's only Arabic-themed public school, maintains that DOE played into the hands of hatemongers who opposed the very concept of the school, meant to bridge cultures. After a controversy involving her defining the word "intifada," Almontaser resigned before the school's first term began.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that the department "succumbed to the very bias that [the] 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," according to a published letter issued by the commission.
A report in the New York Times says the commission asked the DOE to reconsider Almontaser's demands to get her old job back along with back pay, damages of $300,000 and legal fees.
Before the school even opened in 2007, Ms. Almontaser was subjected to a barrage of criticism in publications like the New York Post, the now-defunct New York Sun and the Stop the Madrassa blog — which opined that the school would be a training ground for terrorists and worse.
The controversy intensified when Almontaser commented in a New York Post story about a T-shirt being sold with the word "intifada" by an Arabic girl's organization with no connection to the school. She said the word had nonviolent origins and literally meant "shaking off."
Almontaser's comments set off a barrage of complaints to city officials, and she was told to step down.
Almontaser, an experienced educator, is considered a religious liberal and had taken part in interfaith events with Christian and Jewish groups, especially in the aftermath of 9/11. Several Jewish groups and liberal rabbis defended her in the controversy.
KGIA opened in a new location (on Navy Street near Fort Greene) in 2008.
In the meantime, Holly Reichert, the current principal of the school, has resigned and will be replaced with Beshir Abdelllatif, an Arabic-American principal who most recently worked in Queens.
Almontaser's lawyer, Alan Levine, yesterday called the timing of the Department of Education's appointment of another Arab-American principal "suspicious" and a possible "attempt to deflect the conclusion of the EEOC that the DOE had engaged in discrimination."