The Gibran Academy: Anatomy of a disaster

Standing firm
A police officer stands at the Department of Education’s Manhattan headquarters, where protesters rallied on Monday to demand the reinstatement of Khalil Gibran Academy principal Debbie Almontaser, who resigned under fire earlier this month.
Matthew Weinstein

The Khalil Gibran International Academy, an Arabic language and culture middle school named after the famed Lebanese Christian poet, was a lightning rod of controversy from the very beginning. Given the school’s demise this week, we felt it was time for a fond look back.

February, 2007: The city announces that the Khalil Gibran International Academy will be located somewhere in Brooklyn.

March, 2007: The fight begins as the city announces that the academy will share space inside PS 282 in Park Slope.

• April, 2007: The outrage begins: Daniel Pipes, a commentator on radical Islam, writes that “Arabic-language instruction is inevitably laden with pan-Arabist and Islamist baggage.” A week later, the city announces that the school won’t be in Park Slope.

May, 2007: The school is officially moved to Boerum Hill.

• September, 2007: The first day of school was covered by practically more media than were in Little Rock for the desegregation of the high school.

August, 2007: Founding principal Debbie Almontaser resigns amid pressure from the city after she didn’t forcefully condemn a T-shirt reading, “Intifada NYC.” The city appoints non-Arabic speaker, Danielle Salzberg, to replace Almontaser.

Founding principal Debbie Almontaser didn't do herself or her school any favors.
The Brooklyn Paper / Tom Callan

November, 2007: Almontaser sues the city for violating her free speech.

January, 2008: The school gets its third principal, Holly Reichart, who replaces Salzberg.

March, 2008: School relocated to the PS 287 building in Fort Greene.

April, 2008: Parents there say they feel “bamboozled” after learning that the academy would be housed inside their Navy Street building.

March, 2010: Almontaser is vindicated when a federal commission rules that the city “succumbed to the very bias that creation of the school was intended to dispel” when it forced Almontaser to resign.

• This week: The city plans to kill the Gibran middle school and try to turn it into a high school.

— Gersh Kuntzman

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