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Arabic school missteps

The Brooklyn Paper
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The city’s inept handling of the Khalil Gibran International Academy continues.

Just three weeks before the Arabic language and culture school is set to open inside a Boerum Hill public school building, its principal, Debbie Almontaser, was forced to resign after defending the use of the term “intifada” on a line of Muslim-empowerment T-shirts.

She told the New York Post that the term means “shaking off.” Plenty of critics — including teacher’s union head Randi Weingarten — were quick to remind Almontaser of the word’s much more hostile meaning, and she quit her job a few days later.

The resignation put the school — which was already having trouble filling its mere 60 slots — in a tailspin. So what did the city do to stop the bleeding? It brought in a Jewish educator — who doesn’t even speak Arabic — to run the city’s first Arabic language and culture school. It almost reads like an article in the satirical newpaper, the Onion.

This newspaper has not taken a position on establishing an Arabic language and culture school, although we’ve pointed out that there are more than 60 such public, non-sectarian academies in the city — teaching languages from Mandarin Chinese to Russian to Creole to Spanish.

But we did criticize, from the start, the ham-handed manner in which Department of Education bureaucrats, tone deaf to local concerns, handled what would have been a controversial move even under the best of circumstances.

At first, back in March, Education officials tried to slip the Gibran Academy’s then-80 middle-school-aged students into Park Slope’s elementary-level PS 282 without so much as informing the local parents that their already crowded school would be forced to welcome older kids.

When the parents revolted, the city withdrew the plan — and then foisted it just as undiplomatically on parents at a Dean Street high- and middle-school complex.

Throughout, the Department of Education lost any remaining trust by refusing to answer basic questions about how the school was planned, what its curriculum would be and why Almontaser was best equipped to lead it. Then, when the school was attacked by critics — some with completely legitimate questions — Almontaser pretended she couldn’t be bothered and that school opponents were intolerant.

In this sorry context, perhaps, hiring a Jewish educator who does not speak Arabic makes sense. After all, the Department of Education hasn’t known what it’s doing from the start, so why should anything be different now?

Updated 4:31 pm, July 9, 2018
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