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.”