The Muslim principal who cried "bomb!" in a crowded school has left chaos and violence in the classrooms she created. And now, she's moved a step closer to returning.
It is against this tumultuous backdrop that we learn Brooklyn's Khalil Gibran International Academy -- founded in 2007 by firebrand ex-Principal Debbie Almontaser as the city's first public Arabic-themed school -- this year has suspended more than one-third of its student body for infractions ranging from hitting to weapons.
"Every day, they're fighting," said Voneeda Black, who nervously sends her 6-year-old to the elementary school with which Gibran shares a building.
"You don't see parents," she said. "Three or four times a week, there are cops here, if not more."
It may be the worst record in the city. So how did this happen?
Two and a half years ago, the hijab-wearing Almontaser invented the academy as a way to foster peace and understanding. But she was promptly removed, stuck elsewhere in the school system. She cried "unfair!"
Then, last week, Almontaser won a crucial ruling that could help bring her back. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said the school system discriminated against Almontaser's race and religion. Fired, for being an Arab.
Almontaser was tossed after she proclaimed, in a detailed interview with this newspaper, that the term "intifada" -- which has led to mass murder, both downtown and in the Middle East -- does not equal bloody uprising. She defined the hot-button word as a benign "shaking off" of oppression. Particularly against girls. As if American girls are worse off than those in, say, her native Yemen.
Even accepting Almontaser's word that she's no radical, her comments suggest a tolerant, morally relativistic view of violence, for which there is no place in our schools. The commission didn't see it that way.
Almontaser has expressed utter joy to have -- finally! -- scored a victory in her claim to have been oppressed. The ruling, at the very least, will cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in settlement and legal fees, as it breathes life into Almontaser's lawsuit. At worst, she'll be back.
So I think it appropriate to take a hard look at Gibran -- a school founded on the flawed notion that segregating Arabists will lead to harmony.
Since it opened, the tiny school on the edge of DUMBO has had one of the city's highest rates of violence. A teacher was taunted by kids as a "terrorist" in 2008. It's gotten steadily worse.
More than a third -- one in three! -- of Gibran's 114 students, grades six through eight, have been suspended this year, according to the Department of Education.
Twenty-two were yanked from school for five days. Eight kids were considered so rowdy or dangerous, they were banned from class six to 10 days.
Nineteen fights led to student injuries or intimidation. In two other cases, weapons were used. This number has climbed from last year's 17 violent incidents and 26 suspensions.
And the school year isn't over yet.
"There's a lot of name-calling and walking around the hallways," said parent Deborah Rivers, whose sons, 11 and 13, are Gibran students.
It's scarier than parents suspect. Bedlam is a reason Gibran's latest revolving-door principal, Holly Reichert, resigned this week, leading the school to engage its fourth leader in less than three years, said a Department of Ed source.
"Those numbers [of violent incidents] are higher than they need to be," said the source. "Frankly, that is more than I want to see in a school of that size. They need to do better."
I reached out to the school, but was told the new Arab-American principal, Beshir Abdellatif, and other staff members were not available.
A bad idea has morphed into an abysmal failure. You don't get peace by segregating kids. You get weapons, pandemonium. And expensive lawsuits.
Almontaser should be grateful she was canned from her self-created disaster.