In a surprising reversal, the founder of a public school with a controversial Arabic curriculum announced that she will not pursue a lawsuit against the city for wrongful termination — despite a recent report from a federal agency that she was deserving of financial reparations and reinstatement.
The former principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy, Debbie Almontaser, said that the prospect of a protracted court case that would have thrust her back into the spotlight was too much to bear.
“I have decided that it is time for me to move on with my professional and personal life,” said Almontaser. “Additional litigation of the discrimination claim would mean re-living the unfortunate and painful events of August, 2007, when news stories daily distorted my words and attacked my work, my integrity, and my reputation.”
Almontaser’s decision to withdraw the suit comes only two months after the federal 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 the Muslim educator to quit her job as principal of Khalil Gibran.
City officials reiterated their stance that Almontaser’s firing was legal.
“As we’ve stated previously, the [federal] finding was without any basis whatsoever, and the [Department of Education] in no way discriminated against Ms. Almontaser,” said Michael Best, a lawyer for the city.
The whirlwind of controversy surrounding Almontaser began back in February, 2007, when the educator unveiled an innovative English and Arabic curriculum that would, she said, foster greater understanding between two cultures that are often perceived as being at odds.
But 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 appeared in a New York Post article about a line of T-shirt designs that read, “Intifada NYC.” Almontaser failed to renounce the shirts in the article, and resigned in the subsequent firestorm.
The school opened without her.
In the wake of the federal ruling in March that vindicated Almontaser, Khalil Gibran’s then-principal, Holly Anne Reichert, abruptly resigned and Beshir Abdellatif took over, making him the first Muslim-American to run the Arabic school in its brief history — a coincidence that did not elude the embattled educator.
“While it is shameful that it took a finding of discrimination by an independent federal agency to force the city’s hand, I hope that this appointment will bring the stability and leadership to the school that it so badly needs,” Almontaser said.
Almontaser currently works as a special education coordinator at a high school in Brooklyn, and is still awaiting a decision by the US Court of Appeals on another lawsuit charging that her First Amendment rights were violated by her firing.