A federal agency has ruled that the city’s ouster of the founding principal of an Arabic language and culture school was marred by prejudice — a vindication for the embattled educator as she seeks to win her job back through the courts.
The report by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that the Department of Education “succumbed to the very bias that creation of the school was intended to dispel” when it forced Debbie Almontaser to resign from her job as principal of Khalil Gibran International Academy, which is now located on Navy Street near Fort Greene.
The report also touched on the controversy stoked by right-wing bloggers, adding, “A small segment of the public succeeded in imposing its prejudices on [the Department of Education] as an employer.”
Almontaser, who was widely respected as an educator before the 2007 controversy, told The Brooklyn Paper that she was “overjoyed that an official neutral body found through its intense investigation that I was greatly wronged by my employer, the Department of Education. This is a true vindication for me and all people of color specifically Arab and Muslim Americans in the post-9-11 world.”
She vowed that she would “regain my principalship” of the school.
The city’s legal eagles said it ain’t happening.
“The EEOC’s finding is without any basis whatsoever,” said Paul Marks, a lawyer for the city. “The DOE in no way discriminated against Ms. Almontaser and she will not be reinstated. If she continues to pursue litigation, we will vigorously defend against her groundless allegations.”
In the wake of the ruling, the school’s current principal, Holly Anne Reichert, abruptly resigned and Beshir Abdellatif will take over — making him the first Muslim-American to run the Arabic school in its brief history.
A Department of Education spokesman told the Daily News that the sudden appointment of Abdellatif was in no way an attempt to improve the school’s public image as it reenters the spotlight.
The news of the EEOC decision, first reported by the New York Times, marks a new development in a controversy that made national news.
In February of that year, Almontaser unveiled an innovative bilingual curriculum in English and Arabic that would, she said, foster greater understanding between two cultures that are often perceived as being at odds.
However, radical right-wing bloggers got wind of the new school, and labels like “madrassa” and “jihad school” began circulating in the media.
During the furor, Almontaser was quoted in the New York Post as not renouncing a T-shirt design that read, “Intifada NYC.” She resigned shortly after the story was published.
Parents at Park Slope’s PS 282, where the school was originally meant to be sited, protested, forcing the school to first open in Boerum Hill before it moved to the PS 287 building on Navy Street a year later.
— with Michele DeMeglio