“DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION REFUSES TO ADDRESS ISSUES OF DISCRIMINATION IN CASE OF DEBBIE ALMONTASER” : Press Release

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

What is the Department of Education (DOE) up to? Its recent behavior in the case of Debbie Almontaser “is suspicious, to say the least,” stated her lawyers, Alan Levine and Cynthia Rollings. According to Levine, “Only days earlier, the DOE was charged by a federal agency with having discriminated against an Arab-American principal, and then they install an Arab-American as the school’s principal. The timing seems a bit more than coincidental.”

What actually happened? This past Thursday, March 11th, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued a Determination that “the evidence obtained during the investigation establishes that Respondent Department of Education discriminated against [Ms. Almontaser] on account of her race, religion, and national origin by constructively discharging her from her temporary position as acting principal and disqualifying her as candidate for the permanent position.” Further, the Determination stated that the “DOE 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 DOE as an employer.”

Despite these findings of discrimination on the part of the DOE by an impartial federal agency, the DOE’s lawyers responded dismissively by saying that the DOE “in no way discriminated against Ms. Almontaser and she will not be reinstated.”

Five days later, the principal of KGIA gave the school’s families one day’s notice that she was leaving the school and that a new principal, Beshir Abdellatif (who would be leaving the school where he was principal), would be coming the next day. This means that two principals abruptly left their schools in the middle of the year, and that parents at both schools had almost no advance knowledge of the changes.

Michelle Fine, noted educator and expert on dropouts, educational inequity, and the small schools movement, said: “Does the DOE really believe the public will be appeased by the appointment of a new principal— introduced late in the school year, with no community input, provoking leadership disruptions in two schools and a media diversion? The DOE shouts transparency and accountability and ‘we know what’s good for the children’ as they refuse to consult with educators, youth or parent groups and ignore the EEOC! To whom is the DOE accountable?”

If the principal is leaving KGIA, then, in light of the EEOC determination, fairness demands that Debbie Almontaser be placed back into the position she held of interim acting principal until the C-30 application process can take place. She was, after all, the person that the DOE and community agreed was most qualified to lead the school in the first place.

According to Linda Sarsour of the Arab American Association of New York, “If the DOE was operating in good faith and not trying to deflect the impact of the EEOC determination, they would certainly not have removed a principal and installed a new one with one day’s notice. The DOE must not be allowed to ignore the very serious findings of discrimination of the EEOC Determination.”

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