Principal Resigns Over 'Intifada' T-Shirts
NEW YORK (Aug. 11) - An Arabic-themed public school will still open in
September, despite the abrupt departure of its embattled principal,
the city Department of Education said.
Photo Gallery: Lost in Translation? and Opinion Poll at website
Diane Bondareff, AP Debbie Almontaser resigned as principal of an
Arab-themed public school in New York Friday after she was criticized
for being part of group selling shirts imprinted with the words
So far, 45 students have enrolled in the Khalil Gibran International
Academy, which is eventually to cover grades 6 to 12. But the Brooklyn
school and its intended principal, Debbie Almontaser, have faced
questions and criticism since plans for the academy were announced in
Almontaser resigned Friday after coming under fire for failing to
condemn the use of the highly charged word "intifada" on T-shirts.
"I became convinced yesterday that this week's headlines were
endangering the viability of Khalil Gibran International Academy, even
though I apologized," she said in a statement.
Almontaser's departure comes on the heels of an editorial flaying in
the New York Post and an article this week that connected Almontaser
to Arab Women Active in Art and Media.
That group is selling shirts imprinted with the words "Intifada NYC."
It shares office space with the Saba Association of American Yemenis,
which counts Almontaser among its board members.
The tabloid asserted the shirts had a subversive meaning: "The
inflammatory tees boldly declare 'Intifada NYC' - apparently a call
for a Gaza-style uprising in the Big Apple."
Almontaser, a public school teacher with 15 years of experience, told
the paper that was a stretch. She said the word, which is most
commonly associated with the violent Palestinian uprising against the
Israelis, "basically means 'shaking off."'
"That is the root word if you look it up in Arabic," she said. "I
understand it is developing a negative connotation due to the uprising
in the Palestinian-Israeli areas. I don't believe the intention is to
have any of that kind of (violence) in New York City."
She said the shirts provided an "opportunity for girls to express that
they are part of New York City society ... and shaking off oppression."
A message left on Almontaser's cell phone was not returned Friday.
The academy, named after the famed Lebanese-American Christian poet
who promoted peace, would be one of a few nationwide that incorporate
the Arabic language and culture.
It has had a rocky path to its planned opening. Initially supposed to
share space with an elementary school, the academy was shut out after
parents complained that there wasn't enough space. City officials
chose another host school, with middle and high school students, but
parents there have raised similar concerns.
Meanwhile, a number of conservative Web sites, blogs and other
publications have come out against the school. Some have questioned
Almontaser's character and tried to paint her as a radical Muslim with
a dangerous agenda.
She has said the school will teach culture, not religion.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said on his radio show that Almontaser is
"certainly not a terrorist" but called her resignation the "right
thing to do."
Still, Almontaser's departure appeared unlikely to end opposition to
"The fact that she is gone doesn't mean anything at all. All the
people behind her are still there," said Hope Winters, a Manhattan
mother and member of a group that brought the "Intifada NYC" T-shirts
to public attention.
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