Quiet start for NYC Arabic school

The 55 sixth-grade students enrolled at the Khalil Gibran International Academy were greeted Tuesday morning by only supportive faces.

ny arab school 224.88 ap (photo credit: AP)
ny arab school 224.88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
After all the fuss and fracas, the opening of the city's new Arabic school turned out to be much like any other first day of class. The 55 sixth-grade students enrolled at the Khalil Gibran International Academy were greeted Tuesday morning by only supportive faces as they made their way into the space they share in Brooklyn with another middle school and a high school. Supporters of the school, named for the Lebanese Christian poet who promoted peace, stood by as the students started their day. The school is the first in the city to teach Arabic and Arab culture. Protests against the school, which have been fervent since it was announced this year, were in another borough - on the steps of City Hall in Manhattan. Opponents have attacked the school as a potential training ground for radicals. A group of protesters repeated those charges on Tuesday. The city's Department of Education has said that part of the reason for the school is to respond to the need for Arabic speakers - one that the federal government has recognized and has taken steps to address. Grants have been given out to schools that teach students critical-need languages such as Chinese and Arabic, federal Department of Education program specialist Becky Richie said. While many of the grants have gone toward Chinese-language programs, some have gone to schools in places including Iowa and Michigan to teach or expand Arabic programs, she said. At least one parent had high hopes for the Khalil Gibran school. Carmen Colon had been planning to send her son to the school before the controversy erupted. "I thought it was the best advantage I could give my son," she said. The school is starting with sixth-graders and will expand with one additional class every year to end up with 500 to 600 students in grades six to 12. It joins a number of small public schools in the city that are themed, covering areas from the arts to social justice to Chinese language. The academy's original principal, Debbie Almontaser, left last month after criticism for her failure to condemn the use of the highly charged word "intifada," an Arabic term commonly used to refer to the Palestinian uprising against Israel, on T-shirts. She was replaced by acting interim principal Danielle Salzberg, a Jewish woman who does not speak Arabic. The academy originally was going to be housed in an elementary school in Brooklyn. Parents at the school objected for a number of reasons and questioned whether there would be enough space in the building and whether the ideological controversy would create a security risk.