The Gibran Academy: Anatomy of a disaster

Standing firm
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