APPEALS COURT SENDS ARAB-AMERICAN EDUCATOR’S CASE BACK TO DISTRICT COURT FOR FULL TRIAL
District Court Told to Consider Whether Department of Education May Punish Debbie Almontaser Based on an Inaccurate and Misconstrued News Story
New York, NY March, 20, 2008: Today, the court of appeals declined to reverse the decision of a federal district court judge who had denied a preliminary injunction to the founding principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy, Debbie Almontaser. The court did not say that it agreed with the district judge, only that his decision was not “an abuse of discretion.”
In its opinion the appeals court made clear its concern that Ms. Almontaser was punished “for speaking accurately when her statement was, as her employer knows, inaccurately reported and then misconstrued by the press.” However, the court said that was an issue to be first addressed by the district court.
The case will now return to the district court for a full trial.
“It is evident from the judges’ opinion, as it was from their questioning of the DOE’s lawyer when the case was argued, that the court is troubled by the actions of the DOE in Ms. Almontaser case,” said Alan Levine, attorney for Ms. Almontaser. “The idea that people can lose their job because the press distorts what they say seems to disturb the court. It should disturb Chancellor Klein as well,” he added. “There is something fundamentally wrong when the DOE insists that school employees speak publicly on an issue and then fires them when they do no more than accurately define a controversial word.”
The district court originally denied Ms. Almontaser’s motion for a preliminary injunction in December 2007. The case was then appealed, and during the argument of the appeal, judges criticized the DOE for overreacting to what they called “garbling” of Ms. Almontaser’s words by a New York Post reporter.
In 2005, Ms. Almontaser was asked by New Visions for Public Schools, an educational reform organization that assists the DOE in establishing new schools, to spearhead the development of KGIA and then to become its founding principal.
KGIA was designed as a school that would focus on Arabic language and cultural studies, and, as one of its missions, would promote understanding between New York’s Arab and non-Arab communities.
Ms. Almontaser was initially named Project Director, the title that is given by the DOE to all persons who lead the development of a new school. In July 2007, the DOE named Ms. Almontaser the interim acting principal of the school, which is the title that leaders of new schools are customarily given until a permanent principal is selected. During that time Ms. Almontaser supervised the development of curriculum, hired and trained staff, recruited students and parents, purchased supplies, and prepared the school for its September opening.
As a result of a series of attacks on the school by a conservative blog and an article in the New York Post that quoted Ms. Almontaser on a matter completely unrelated to KGIA, the DOE forced her to resign her post and further, denied her the opportunity to apply for the job of permanent Principal.
David Lerner, President
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