The free speech rights of the former principal of the city’s first Arabic language and culture academy — who was asked to resign after defending an “Intifada NYC” T-shirt — were not violated, a Manhattan judge ruled on Wednesday.
Debbie Almontaser’s ability to talk about the T-shirt “is not protected” speech because she was speaking as a city employee, not a private citizen, when she spoke to the New York Post in August, federal judge Sidney Stein ruled.
In the interview, Almontaser had said that the word “Intifada” means “shaking off,” and that the T-shirt, produced by a youth group that shares office space with Almontaser’s group, was intended to promote female empowerment.
Days after the interview hit the stands, city officials demanded — and got — Almontaser’s resignation. But Almontaser, the founding principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy, fought back, suing city officials for violating her free speech rights and forcing her to resign. She also claimed that their “extreme and outrageous” actions “recklessly caused severe emotional distress.”
The hearing is just the latest chapter in a saga that began in February, when city officials abruptly announced that the Academy would be housed in an elementary school in Park Slope. Following weeks of parent protests, officials moved the school to a building in Boerum Hill. A Jewish woman who speaks no Arabic is the interim principal, and the school has stayed out of the headlines since opening day.