Arabic school causes stir in NYC

Objectors claim Education Department didn't provide enough info on charter.

October 25, 2007 22:49
3 minute read.
Arabic school causes stir in NYC

arabic 66. (photo credit: )


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A coalition opposed to a new Arabic-language school in the city has filed a lawsuit against the New York City Department of Education. Stop the Madrassa Community Coalition is attempting to shut down the Khalil Gibran International Academy in Brooklyn, which opened this fall under intense scrutiny. The coalition is taking its case to the New York Supreme Court following a Freedom of Information Law request. It claims the Department of Education failed to provide sufficient information about the charter school's curriculum and text books. The group is asking for all records relating to the school's staff, including Debbi Almontaser, the founder who resigned as principal following a controversy that erupted after she was quoted in the New York Post defending the use of the word "Intifada" on a T-shirt. In the past few months, the coalition has increased its efforts to close the middle school, a college preparatory program with an emphasis on Arabic language, culture and history. It claims the school indoctrinates students with a radical Islamist agenda. The coalition has also requested all documents and records relating to the citizenship, race and religious affiliation of the school's students and those seeking to enroll. It said the Department of Education had until November 6 to respond. "We don't comment on pending litigation," Department of Education spokeswoman Melody Meyer told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday. But the department's press secretary said: "All you need to know about Stop the Madrassa is that the lawyer who represents them has a Web site that rejects democracy and suggests that America has declined because it has become less white." The group behind the coalition has also established a nonprofit organization called Citizens for American Values in Public Education Inc., which intends to "halt the imposition of radical Islamist agendas" in curriculum, Arab-language programs, history classes, textbooks, teacher training and charter schools nationwide. "We started that national group because we need to start educating people to educate themselves, watch their boards of education, so these things don't suddenly arise," said Stuart Kaufman, a member of the the coalition's national advisory board. "What we are doing, the government should be doing - but they aren't, so it falls to us." The coalition has also been accused of being racist and fear-mongering. The Jewish Week in August reported that one of the coalition leaders, David Yerushalmi, has condemned democracy in the United States. He said he had found truth in the view that Jews "destroy their host nations like a fatal parasite," the paper reported. Yerushalmi has denounced Zionist Israel, calling on it to "cast off the yoke of liberal democracy," according to The Jewish Week. Yerushalmi has since been removed from the coalition's Web site but continues to be affiliated and is behind the current lawsuit. Almontaser spoke out publicly last week for the first time since she resigned. On the steps of City Hall, she said she had been forced into giving an interview with the New York Post and resigned under pressure from "right-wing bloggers," several newspapers and representatives of the mayor. "Leading the attack was the Stop the Madrassa Coalition run by Daniel Pipes, who has made his career fostering hatred of Arabs and Muslims," Almontaser said. "The coalition conducted a smear campaign against me and the school that was ferocious. Members of the coalition stalked me wherever I went and verbally assaulted me with vicious anti-Arab and anti-Muslim comments. They suggested that, as an observant Muslim, I was disqualified from leading KGIA, even though the school is rigorously secular, and its namesake, Khalil Gibran, was a Lebanese Christian. "To stir up anti-Arab prejudice they constantly referred to me by my Arabic name, a name that I do not use professionally. They even created and circulated a YouTube clip depicting me as a radical Islamist." Kaufman said the name-calling was unjustified, but dismissed claims that the group stalked Almontaser. "Is it racist to say we are entitled to see what the curriculum is?" he asked. "We are concerned about Islamists, a fanatic Islamic faction that says they want to destroy us. If all they can do is call us names, go ahead. They love to be victims, but we won't be victims - we are entitled to these things." Almontaser last week submitted an application to become principal of the school and is preparing a lawsuit against the Department of Education "for violation of my constitutional rights." The Department of Education said it would not consider Almontaser for the job. "In August, Ms. Almontaser said she resigned as principal from Khalil Gibran International Academy to protect the stability of the school and give it 'the full opportunity to flourish,'" it said in a statement. "The chancellor agreed with her decision, accepted her resignation, and now considers the matter closed."

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