April 2, 2008
Dear Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein,
In 2007 the New York City Public Schools approved the establishment of the first-ever NY public school focusing on Arabic language and culture. This new small dual-language school, Khalil Gibran International Academy (KGIA), addressed a need and dream of many in New York’s Arab communities. Leading the campaign for this specialty academy was Debbie Almontaser, a respected educator and community leader, who was selected to become the school’s founding principal.
Before the school ever opened its doors, Almontaser was forced to resign. When Debbie Almontaser was forced out as principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy, a blow was struck against the rights and academic freedom of educators everywhere. Principal Almontaser was the guiding light and the pioneer behind the founding of the new school, which was envisioned as part of a vibrant small-schools movement fostering personalization, autonomy, and the empowerment of teachers.
A campaign of lies, racial fear, and anti-Arab prejudice, emanating from a conservative media group including the New York Post and supported by Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein, forced Almontaser from her post. Prior to and during the first semester of the school’s existence, Almontaser was replaced by two principals, neither of whom possesses her exceptional academic qualifications, her leadership capabilities, her relationship with the school community, nor her knowledge of Arabic language and culture.
KGIA was attacked by a small group of fear-mongering bigots. It was labeled a “terrorist school” and a “madrassa.” But this campaign of slander has been met by a broad coalition supporting the school and its intended principal, including leading organizations spanning the many diverse communities in New York. This coalition is pursuing every channel to restore Almontaser to her rightful position and to clear her name and her reputation.
Debbie Almontaser did nothing wrong. She committed no crime. She violated no rules nor any terms of her contract. She was forced to resign after doing nothing more than answering a reporter’s question about the root meaning of the word “intifada.”
For those of us working in the field of education, the treatment of Debbie Almontaser represents a threat not only to our rights as educators and citizens in a democratic society; it is also an attack on the small-schools movement and on the push for diversity and equity within our system of public education. Will bigotry be allowed to decide which public schools can exist and who can lead them?
We the undersigned insist that Debbie Almontaser be returned to her post as founding principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy.
Bernadette Anand, Bank Street Graduate School of Education
Gary Anderson, Steinhardt School of Education, N.Y.U.
Rick Ayers, UC Berkeley Graduate School of Education
William Ayers, University of Illinois at Chicago
Carmen Colon, Association of NYC’s Educated Communities
Kathleen Cushman, Education Writer
Lisa Delpit, Center for Urban Education and Innovation, F.I.U.
Michelle Fine, The Graduate Center – City University of New York
Ofelia Garcia, Teachers College, Columbia University
Maxine Greene, Teachers College, Columbia University
Kris D. Gutierrez, Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, UCLA
Paula Hajar, Bronx Charter School for Better Learning
Annette Henry, Education Program, University of Washington, Tacoma
Jay P. Heubert, Teachers College, Columbia University
Mike Klonsky, Small Schools Workshop
Susan Klonsky, Small Schools Workshop
Kevin Kumashiro, University of Illinois at Chicago
Gloria Ladson-Billings, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Carol Lee, Northwestern University
Sally Lee, Teachers Unite
Linda Levine, Bank Street Graduate School of Education
Tara Mack, Education for Liberation Network
Edwin Mayorga, New York Collective of Radical Educators
Deborah W. Meier, Steinhardt School of Education, N.Y.U.
Jon Moscow, The Brotherhood/Sister Sol
Arwa Nasser, United Nations International School
Donna Nevel, Center for Immigrant Families
Pedro A. Noguera, Metropolitan Center for Urban Education, N.Y.U.
Gary Orfield, Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles, UCLA
Mica Pollock, Harvard Graduate School of Education
Granville Leo Stevens, Independent Parents Organizations
Endorsers of Educators Letter
Bill Bigelow, Rethinking Schools MagazineCharles E. Butterworth, University of MarylandLuis O. Reyes, Coalition for Educational Excellence for English Language Learners
Eleanor J. Bader, Pratt Institute
Renate Bridenthal, City University of New York
Annette Swierzbinski, Others Are Us
Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz, Queens College/CUNY
Jessica Klonsky, EBC High School for Public Service-Bushwick
Electa Arenal CUNY/Graduate Center
David Stovall, University of Illinois at Chicago
Osmond Wilson, TESOL instructor NY
Steve Quester, UFT chapter leader, The Children’s School
Bree Picower, New York University
Joel Kovel, Bard College
Gregory Tewksbury, Eugene Lang College, The New School
Jack Arnow, Kingsborough Community College
Cristen Chapman – Chicago Public Schools
Louis Cristillo, Teachers College Columbia University
S. E. Anderson- Black New Yorkers for Educational Excellence
Ellen Raider, ICOPE
Naomi Braine, Brooklyn College, City University of New York
Sean Ahern, NYC teacher and member, UFT
Abigail Levine, artist/educator
A.S. Evans, public school parent and writer, NYC
Zachary Lockman, New York University
*affiliations listed for identification purposes