Press Release: January 17, am

For Immediate Release Contact Mona 917-703-0488, Donna 917-570-4371

January 14, 2008

KGIA Teacher speaks out on Thursday, January 17th

Community Groups and Others Point to Racism and Problematic Process in the Appointment of New KGIA Principal

On Thursday, January 17th at 5:30pm at PRLDEF, 99 Hudson Street, 14th floor, the school’s UFT Chapter Leader and others will speak about the vision of KGIA, the reality inside the school, and why KGIA needs Debbie Almontaser’s leadership.

The New York City Department of Education (DOE) announced its decision to appoint a new principal for the Khalil Gibran International Academy (KGIA) on January 8th. The announcement came amidst charges of racism and a lawsuit challenging the DOE’s removal of Debbie Almontaser, the dual-language school’s founding principal. Ms. Almontaser was forced out of her position as principal when the DOE, New Visions for Public Schools, and United Federation of Teachers (UFT) President Randi Weingarten called for her resignation. According to those organizing for the re-appointment of Ms. Almontaser, her removal was the result of a smear campaign against her and the school. “The DOE’s decision reflects educational policy based on anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racism,” says Amy Schoenwald, a representative from Communities in Support of KGIA, a coalition of over 25 community groups and individuals from diverse communities in New York City and from across the country.

When the DOE forced Debbie Almontaser to resign, they forced an Arab-American woman (identifiable as Muslim by her hijab/headscarf) out of a leadership position in a school intended to focus on Arab language and culture. KGIA was long envisioned by Almontaser, with the help of a diverse school design team, to be a community-based school with deep and meaningful relationships with Arab-American and multicultural communities and educational institutions throughout NYC. The DOE replaced Almontaser with a white woman without roots in these communities. While the DOE unjustly—and unjustifiably—forced the Arab-American woman out after she would not condemn Arab-American girls and other girls of color who were being vilified for t-shirts bearing the word “intifada,” the woman it chose to replace her offered such a condemnation on the very day of her appointment. “Her comment was totally irrelevant to her job as principal and showed little respect for the Arab community”, said civil rights lawyer Abdeen Jabara.

Sean Grogan, an educator and current teacher at KGIA, where he is also UFT Chapter Leader, comments, “I, as well as others, came to KGIA because of Debbie Almontaser’s vision and the leadership she brought with her. I was honored to be working with someone so talented and committed to our children, who, as an Arab educator, not only brought with her a great knowledge of Arabic culture and language, but was also a bridge builder who was uniquely qualified to bring our communities together and to lead such a school.” Grogan added that “Debbie Almontaser by far remains the person most qualified to lead the Khalil Gibran International Academy, which has been in great disarray since her forced resignation.” KGIA parent Saleh Altaheri agreed: “It is Debbie Almontaser—her vision and qualifications to be the leader of KGIA—that we most need at this time.”

The DOE has withheld a significant detail from the media and public regarding Holly Reichert, the new principal: Reichert comes to her position from New Visions for Public Schools, one of the key players in forcing Almontaser’s resignation. But all of the DOE’s descriptions of Reichert’s qualifications for this position, as cited in numerous media reports, omit her affiliation with New Visions, on whose Board both the Chancellor and UFT President sit. “This omission is misleading and obscures the fact that the DOE’s search for principal began and ended in its own backyard,” added Carol Horwitz of Communities in Support of KGIA.

“The DOE tried to give the impression that its principal selection process is open and designed to determine the strongest possible candidate. This was most certainly not the process used for KGIA. Debbie Almontaser was not given appropriate or fair consideration,” said Sally Lee of Teachers Unite.

“Through this appointment, the DOE and New Visions have demonstrated their fundamental unwillingness to challenge the right wing. Instead, they have allowed ignorance and divisiveness to prevail,” said Dr. Sarah Sayeed, a concerned community activist and a communication consultant. Debbie Almontaser was uniquely qualified to be the principal of KGIA at the time she was forced to resign. As the visionary architect of this school, she remains the person most capable of ensuring that KGIA becomes what it was meant to be: a school that teaches tolerance, respect and embracing differences, all of which are essential lessons for a diverse city like New York.”

Ms. Almontaser’s lawsuit against the DOE will be heard before the Court of Appeals in the next two weeks. Despite the recent developments, supporters of the original vision of KGIA, as developed by Almontaser and the school’s design team, remain steadfast in their demand for justice.



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