On Tuesday Debbie Almontaser, who was forced from her position as principal of the beleaguered Khalil Gibran International Academy (KGIA) in 2007 amidst a media-generated controversy, issued a statement saying she will not pursue a federal lawsuit against the city's Department of Education (DOE).
KGIA was envisioned as an Arabic dual-language, community-based school in Brooklyn meant to bridge the gaps between cultures. But it quickly became a target of conservative and anti-Arabic groups who claimed it would become a "training ground" for terrorists.
In her statement Almontaser said, "Although I have been greatly injured personally and professionally by the DOE, I have decided that it is time for me to move on with my professional and personal life. The litigation has taken an enormous emotional toll on my family and me."
She added, "Additional litigation of the discrimination claim would mean re-living the painful events of August, 2007, when news stories daily distorted my words and attacked my work, my integrity, and my reputation — and when I was publicly betrayed by people to whom I had given loyal service, including the Mayor, the Chancellor, and longtime colleagues in the interfaith community."
In March the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a ruling confirming that the DOE discriminated against Almontaser when it forced her to resign.
In its ruling, the commission said that the DOE "succumbed to the very bias that creation of the [Khalil Gibran International Academy] was intended to dispel and a small segment of the public succeeded in imposing its prejudices on the DOE as an employer."
In spite of this ruling, the city said it wouldn't consider reinstating her as principal of the school.
Criticism From the Right
Before the Khalil Gibran school opened in 2007, Almontaser was subjected to a barrage of criticism in publications like the New York Post, the now-defunct New York Sun and the right-wing Stop the Madrassa blog — which opined that the public 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 comment set off a barrage of complaints by conservatives 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.
Mona Eldahry, the founder of the organization that made the T-shirts -- Arab Women Active in the Arts and Media – was honored in 2008 by Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz for her service to minority women.
KGIA opened in a new location (on Navy Street near Fort Greene) in 2008. Almontaser said Tuesday that she continues to be "passionately committed to the school that my colleagues and I envisioned when we first proposed it."
Almontaser commented that "within days" of the EEOC's finding that the DOE discriminated against her as an Arab and a Muslim, "the DOE finally saw fit to appoint an Arab-American principal. While it is shameful that it took a finding of discrimination by an independent federal agency to force the DOE's hand, I hope that this appointment will bring the stability and leadership to the school that it so badly needs."
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.