New York City's Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) voted Monday night to transform the city's first Arabic-themed middle school into a high school in Downtown Brooklyn.
Although Khalil Gibran International Academy (KGIA) was originally approved to serve students in grades six through 12, the Department of Education (DOE) says that there has been low demand and declining enrollment in the middle-school grades. The school is currently located in Fort Greene.
Khalil Gibran opened in 2007 in partnership with New Visions for Public Schools and Brooklyn's Arab-American Family Support Center (AAFSC). The school was founded with high hopes of increasing the understanding of Middle Eastern culture, but was soon derailed in an onslaught of criticism from right-leaning groups claiming the school would be a "madrassa" and a "breeding ground for terrorists."
(Technically, a madrassa is an Arabic word for any educational institution. However, in this country, the word has become mistakenly identified only with fundamentalist institutions in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan that taught hostility toward the West.)
The new high school would be "co-located" inside a building at 362 Schermerhorn St. near Flatbush Avenue, which presently houses two other schools. One of these, the Metropolitan Corporate Academy, is being phased out. The other, the Brooklyn School for Career Development, serves emotionally disturbed high schoolers. International Baccalaureate
"We're confident that the new location — accessible to families seeking an Arab-language education — combined with a curriculum that offers students Arab-language skills and tools to succeed after high school, will put Khalil Gibran on a path to improvement," said DOE spokesperson Matthew Mittenthal on Tuesday.
"The school's operators and community partners have committed to ensuring the school will have an IB (International Baccalaureate) program," he added.
International Baccalaureate programs are challenging, high-level programs of international education with rigorous assessment. There are only seven IB programs in New York City, with three in Brooklyn: Brooklyn Friends School in Downtown Brooklyn; Brooklyn Latin School in Bushwick; and St. Edmund Prep on Ocean Avenue.
According to the DOE, the school's partners support the conversion to a high school. But some longtime supporters say that closing Khalil Gibran's middle school would defeat the school's original purpose.
Communities in Support of the Khalil Gibran International Academy said in a statement, "The school's original plan was to begin with middle school, so that students would have grades 6-12 to become truly bilingual, which is the purpose of a dual language program. The proposed high school will have little in common with the original KGIA that the DOE has killed."
Zead Ramadan of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-NY) said, "Although there are many dual language schools in New York City, KGIA was the only one in which the city used our tax dollars to ensure failure by removing every element that could have made it succeed."
The DOE demanded the resignation of founding principal Debbie Almontaser in 2007 after a New York Post article claimed she had defended terrorists by correctly defining the Arabic term "intifada" (as "shaking off," rather than as a reference to Gaza-style uprising). The term was used on T-shirts created by an unrelated group of teenaged girls.
This claim was later debunked, and a federal commission ruled that the city had discriminated against her, but the DOE refused to rehire Almontaser as principal.
Beshir Abdellatif is Khalil Gibran's fourth principal since the school's founding in 2007. This will be the school's third location.