April 10, 2011

For Immediate Release

April 10, 2011, NYC— After having done a great deal to ensure that the Khalil Gibran International Academy (KGIA) would not succeed, the New York City Department of Education is closing the middle school—citing its low enrollment and failing marks on its School Report Card.  KGIA was founded in 2007 to be a model Arabic-English dual language school designed to “help students of all backgrounds learn about the world and foster in them an understanding of different cultures, a love of learning, and desire for excellence in all of its students.”

The DOE has, over the years, taken numerous steps that undermined any chance for the middle school to carry out its mission:

Even before the school opened in 2007, the DOE and Mayor (with Dennis Walcott as the Mayor’s messenger) forced the resignation of founding principal Debbie Almontaser after the New York Post, which asked her to define the word intifada, misreported and sensationalized her response. Right-wing groups that had been opposing the school chimed in with their own brand of anti-Arab/anti-Muslim bigotry. Ms. Almontaser was fully vindicated by a March 2010 ruling of the federal Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, which stated that, in demanding her resignation, the “DOE succumbed to the very bias that the creation of the school was intended to dispel, and a small segment of the public succeeded in imposing its prejudices on the DOE as an employer.”  Her removal from the school reflected the willingness by the Mayor and Chancellor Klein to bow to right-wing hate groups.

After a deeply flawed search in which the DOE refused to consider Ms. Almontaser’s application, it replaced this long-time educator, who is bilingual and bicultural, with a New Visions’ employee, who spoke no Arabic and had no local community roots or demonstrated commitment to KGIA’s initial vision. The school’s next leader, who also came from New Visions and who resigned with the school in disarray, also had little knowledge of, or relationship with, NYC’s Arab communities, and had no experience leading a school.

The DOE and New Visions consistently refused to provide KGIA with the staff and other resources necessary for it to succeed. Months went by, for example, without the school having a special education teacher.  Increasingly, the school was staffed by those who lacked commitment to KGIA’s initial vision; as a result, a school that had begun with great promise as a grade 6-12 dual language school designed to educate its students about the Arabic language and Arab culture, became just another middle school in which students study a foreign language a few periods per week.

Without consulting with parents of KGIA students, the DOE decided to move the school in September 2008 from its original site near neighborhoods with sizable Arab communities to a site in Fort Greene, where only 1 percent of the population is of Arab descent (U.S. Census) and public transportation is sparse.  Although parents of students then enrolled in KGIA objected to the move, they were too late.  As is all too typical, the DOE informed parents only after it had made its decision.

“This is one more story of a DOE and a Mayor who–without the participation of any community and in capitulation to a campaign of racism and hatred–destroyed a school whose purpose was to educate students of different backgrounds to be socially engaged citizens,” stated Mona Eldahry of AWAAM: Arab Women Active in the Arts and Media.

In a letter to the Mayor at the height of the controversy, a group of nationally respected educators wrote the following:

“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?”

Ujju Aggarwal from the Center for Immigrant Families added, “We need KGIA and schools like it more than ever. At a time when profit is being put before the needs of our children; when a top-down approach of mayoral control has replaced partnerships among schools, communities, students, and educators; when there is increased Islamophobia, racism, and xenophobia; we need schools like KGIA that respect, reflect, and serve all our children and communities.”

Adem Carroll of Communities in Support of KGIA stated: “Despite their closing the middle school down, those of us who were part of this movement pledge to continue this struggle on many different fronts.  Those of us who were part of Communities in Support of KGIA have continued to work together to challenge Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism and for equity and justice in our public schools.”



March 24, 2010

EEOC Refers Case to Department of Justice to Consider Action Against City

March 24, 2010

The Department of Education (DOE) has notified the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that it is unwilling to engage in a process of conciliation concerning the EEOC’s finding that the DOE discriminated against Debbie Almontaser when it forced her to resign as acting principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy. The DOE’s position was conveyed to Ms. Almontaser and her lawyers in a letter received yesterday.

The EEOC’s ruling on March 9, 2010 had given the DOE until March 24 to indicate whether it would work with Ms. Almontaser’s lawyers and the EEOC to reach a “just resolution” of her claim. Within hours of receiving the EEOC’s ruling, the DOE responded that it had “in no way discriminated against Ms. Almontaser and she will not be reinstated.”

Commenting on the DOE’s unwillingness to engage in conciliation, Cynthia Rollings, one of Ms. Almontaser’s lawyers, said: “Given the DOE’s dismissive response to the EEOC ruling, we were not surprised to learn that the DOE now says it is unwilling to engage in conciliation. The response is clearly prompted by considerations having nothing to do with the substance of the EEOC Determination.” Co-counsel Alan Levine concurred: “The EEOC’s finding of discrimination is thorough and persuasive. The DOE’s cavalier dismissal of that finding is stark evidence that the merits of the ruling played no part in its refusal to engage in conciliation discussions.”

Ms. Almontaser’s lawyers announced that they intend to bring a lawsuit based on Ms. Almontaser’s discrimination claim. In addition, as a result of the DOE’s refusal to conciliate, the EEOC has referred the case to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to consider whether it, too, will bring a court action against the DOE.

”Although all of us familiar with these events knew that the DOE had discriminated against Debbie Almontaser, this is the first time that a finding of discrimination has been made by an impartial agency. We have all witnessed the DOE’s arrogance on many occasions, but this is particularly appalling,“ stated Ujju Aggarwal of the Center for Immigrant Families.

“This case is of great importance to the Arab and Muslim communities, and we will urge our political representatives to contact the DOJ in an effort to get the DOJ to sue, “ said Dalia Mahmoud of the Muslim Public Affairs Council-NYC (MPAC-NYC).


March 17, 2010

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.”


March 15, 2010


The MPAC-NYC community today welcomed a recent ruling by the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) which found that the New York City Department of Education  discriminated against Debbie Almontaser, the founding principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy in 2007. Almontasser was forced by resign her post following a highly politicized and baseless attack by Islamophobes, led by Daniel Pipes.

SEE: Federal Panel Finds Bias in Ouster of Principal (New York Times)

In a letter issued last week, the EEOC stated that the NYC Department of Education (DOE) had discriminated against Almontaser, a Muslim of Yemeni descent, “on account of her race, religion, and national origin.”

The commission went on to state that the NYC DOE “succumbed to the very bias that the creation of the school was intended to dispel and that a small segment of the public succeeded in imposing its prejudices on DOE as an employer.”

Commenting on the Commission’s finding, Alan Levine, an attorney for Almontaser, said:

“Debbie Almontaser was victimized twice. First, when she was subjected to an ugly smear campaign orchestrated by anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigots, and second, when the DOE capitulated to their bigotry. But the bigots didn’t have the power to take her job away. The DOE did. To its everlasting shame, the DOE did the bigots’ work.  Now, the EEOC has reminded us that it is the responsibility of government to stand up to the forces of discrimination, not to give into them.”

MPAC urges the New York City Department of Education, per the EEOC recommendation, to reinstate Ms. Almontaser in her position as principal of the school and to consider her demands of back pay and legal fees.

Founded in 1988, MPAC is an American institution which informs and shapes public opinion and policy by serving as a trusted resource to decision makers in government, media and policy institutions. MPAC is also committed to developing leaders with the purpose of enhancing the political and civic participation of Muslim Americans.

[CONTACT: Edina Lekovic, 213-383-3443, communications@mpac.org]


March 13, 2010

New York, New York March 12, 2010

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has issued a Determination in which it finds that the Department of Education forced Debbie Almontaser, the former interim acting principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy (KGIA), to resign in order to appease her anti-Arab and anti-Muslim critics. The Commission ruled that, in demanding Ms. Almontaser’s resignation, the “DOE succumbed to the very bias that the creation of the school was intended to dispel, and a small segment of the public succeeded in imposing its prejudices on the DOE as an employer.”

“This is a stunning and important vindication of what Debbie and her supporters have been claiming all along—that the Department of Education succumbed to anti-Muslim and anti-Arab prejudice, committing a terrible injustice and sending a dangerous message about the ability of voices of bigotry and hatred to determine which public schools get to exist and who should lead them,” said educator and writer Paula Hajar.

The Commission also held that Ms. Almontaser was the victim of discrimination when she subsequently applied for the position of permanent principal. It was “clear,” the commission held, that, when she applied, she was not evaluated on the basis of her credentials, noting that the DOE had announced before Almontaser’s application was ever seen “that she would not be considered” for the position.

“I am delighted by the EEOC’s Determination, a step on the road to justice for Debbie Almontaser. It is high time for the DOE to admit that it has done her a terrible wrong. Her good name and reputation deserve to be redeemed,” said Rabbi Ellen Lippmann of Congregation Kolot Chayeinu, one of the signatories of the letter from Jewish leaders in support of Almontaser that was sent to the Mayor and Chancellor last year.

Commenting on the Commission’s finding, Alan Levine, one of Ms. Almontaser’s lawyers, said: “Debbie Almontaser was victimized twice, first, when she was subjected to an ugly smear campaign orchestrated by anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigots, and second, when the DOE capitulated to their bigotry. But the bigots didn’t have the power to take her job away. The DOE did. To its everlasting shame, the DOE did the bigots’ work. Now the EEOC has reminded us that it is the responsibility of government to stand up to the forces of discrimination, not to give into them.”

In a letter accompanying its Determination, the EEOC has asked the DOE to consider Almontaser’s demand for reinstatement and an award of damages.

Letter to Sent to Mayor Bloomberg

September 17, 2009

September 17, 2009

The following letter was sent to Mayor Bloomberg by organizations from the Arab community and other diverse communities across NYC.

Dear Mayor Bloomberg:

We the undersigned write to request a meeting with you and the Department of Education (DOE) to discuss concerns about the current conditions of the Khalil Gibran International Academy (KGIA), New York’s first Arabic dual language school.

For two years now, diverse communities across the city have called on you to provide KGIA with the leadership it needs to succeed. Not only has the administration neglected to support KGIA with adequate leadership to enable it to flourish, but, even as a new school year begins, it has left our communities with a number of very serious questions:

Why did the DOE not actively seek the assistance of the Arab community organizations in Brooklyn to find a more appropriate site for the school?

In 2008, with no input from parents, the school was moved from a location with a largely Arabic speaking community to a location with few or no Arabic speaking families and no access by subway.

What steps will the school leadership take both to fill all of KGIA’s seats and to fill the proposed requirement of 50% Arabic speaking students?

In the 2008-09 school year, the majority of the school’s 120 seats remained empty, with only 52 students enrolled (KGIA website).

Students and parents report that, in both its first- and second-year of operation, no more than 10% of the students enrolled in the school were Arabic-speaking students.  Many of Brooklyn’s Arab community organizations say that school leaders have made no efforts to recruit students through their groups.

What changes will the DOE make so that KGIA can function as an Arabic dual language program?

New Visions’ best practices for dual language learning recommends 50% non-English instruction at a “high frequency” and cites the need for teachers to be proficient in both languages.[1] KGIA started out with Arabic language classes taught only three times per week for one hour each.  All instruction in history, math, science, and other content area classes was in English.  According to the KGIA’s 2008-09 School Survey, 15% of the students surveyed stated that they were not offered Arabic language instruction at all. [2] Parents and students have also reported that Arabic language instruction was provided by a substitute teacher who was not permanently certified to teach and not permanently certified to teach Arabic.

Without both 50% of the students having Arabic as their first language and teachers who are proficient in both languages, a school cannot implement a dual language program.

How do the school leaders plan to incorporate the teaching of Arabic culture into the curriculum as was originally planned?

Parents and students report no Arabic cultural instruction.

How have the school leaders begun to address serious problems related to its staff/faculty-turnover rate?

In the 2007-2008 school year, all but two of the school’s faculty and staff were terminated, forced to resign, or resigned of their own will; two of these have filed lawsuits against the DOE; the NYCLU is representing one of these former staff members. The past school year had additional turnover. A qualified principal would develop a strong faculty and staff.

Mr. Mayor, we, communities across NYC, call on you to demonstrate the DOE’s commitment to KGIA by reopening the application process for principal in order to provide it with the leadership it needs to develop into a thriving school that, as intended, is a fully enrolled Arabic language dual language program that will add a grade each year until it serves grades 6-12. It is important that the original vision for the school be given a chance—and that this important project is shared more effectively with Arab community leaders and families.

We look forward to your response.

Sincerely yours,

Arab American Association of NY
Arab Muslim American Federation
Arab Women Active in the Arts and Media
Black New Yorkers for Educational Excellence
Brooklyn for Peace
Center for Immigrant Families
Council on American-Islamic Relations-NY
Domestic Workers United
Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition
Independent Parents Organizations
It is Time
Jews for Racial and Economic Justice
La Union
Muslim Consultative Network
New York Collective of Radical Educators
Time Out

[1] New Visions, Center for School Success Best Practices Series, Dual Language Instruction http://www.newvisions.org/dls/DualLang.pdf

[2] NYC Department of Education. NYC School Survey 2008-2009 Report, Khalil Gibran International Academy

Intifada NYC screening: Sat, November 14, 8:30 pm

September 3, 2009


Director: David Teague

Year/Length: 2009 / 47 min

Country: U.S.

Co-presenter: London International Documentary Film Festival

New York Festival Premiere

Filmmaker in person

Khalil Gibran International Academy, the first Arabic-language public school in the U.S., opened in Brooklyn in 2007. Almost immediately, “Stop the Madrassa” formed out of fear that the school would teach radical Islam or even produce terrorists. As critics and the mainstream media stoked the flames in post-9/11 America, the controversy forced the school’s Arab-American Muslim principal from her job. Weaving together interviews and cinema verité footage, the film is supplemented by graphic-novel style illustrations of closed-door proceedings. Built on the principal’s struggle to get her job back, Intifada NYC clarifies the ensuing public debate about tolerance and freedom of speech.