Those who are opposed to the school opening this fall with a focus on Arabic language and culture have been searching high and low all summer for ammunition against the school and its founding principal, Debbie Almontaser. Much of the criticism of Khalil Gibran International Academy has been insubstantial or just plain hate-filled, but this week the critics stumbled upon a truly disquieting situation: An organization on whose board Almontaser sits had printed T-shirts reading "Intifada NYC." When reporters asked Almontaser about this, she said the intifada the shirt referred to had nothing to do with the current intifada that has left more than 5,000 Palestinians and Israelis dead.
By yesterday, Almontaser had apologized for those remarks, but this reaction has clearly shaken the school's supporters' confidence that Almontaser will maintain Khalil Gibran's religious and political neutrality. Now, Almontaser is taking fire from some of her former defenders, including UFT President Randi Weingarten, whose comment in the Post may be the least controversial thing she's ever said:
It's not OK to explain away 'intifada' ... Maybe this was just a real error in judgment for which [Almontaser] has now apologized, or maybe, ultimately, she should not be a principal. ... She now has a much higher standard that she has to prove, that this is not the way she's going to run that school.
Assertions that the school will be a madrassa remain ludicrous. But more and more it does seem that Almontaser sees the school as a chance to draw attention to discrimination against Arab-Americans. That subject deserves a great deal of attention and energy, and all schools should strive to teach tolerance. But the purpose of school leadership is to shepherd kids to academic and personal success, not to use them as pawns. I am worried that Khalil Gibran students (if they even exist -- the school has not yet opened!) are being used as pawns and I don't know why any parent would sign his children up for that.