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Author Topic: Update on Debbie Almontaser story  (Read 638 times)
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« on: Mar 13, 2010 07:49 AM »


Debbie Almontaser if y'all remember was going to be the principal of a high school that would be billingual in Arabic and English. This was completely attacked by far right islamophobic bigots. They came out with all this hate filled rhetoric about madrassas blah blah blah. School got canned and they forced her to resign as well.

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Federal Panel Finds Bias in Ouster of Principal
NYTimes
Published: March 12, 2010

A federal commission has determined that New York City’s Department of Education discriminated against the founding principal of an Arabic-language public school by forcing her to resign in 2007 following a storm of controversy driven by opponents of the school.

Acting on a complaint filed last year by the principal, Debbie Almontaser, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that the department “succumbed to the very bias that creation of the school was intended to dispel and a small segment of the public succeeded in imposing its prejudices on D.O.E. as an employer,” according to a letter issued by the commission on Tuesday.

The commission said that the department had discriminated against Ms. Almontaser, a Muslim of Yemeni descent, “on account of her race, religion and national origin.”

The findings, which are nonbinding, could mark a turning point in Ms. Almontaser’s battle to reclaim her job as principal of the school, the Khalil Gibran International Academy in Brooklyn.

The commission asked the Department of Education to reach a “just resolution” with Ms. Almontaser and to consider her demands, which include reinstatement to her old job, back pay, damages of $300,000 and legal fees. Should the two sides fail to reach an agreement, the dispute will end up in court, her lawyer said.

Commission officials declined to answer questions about the case, citing federal confidentiality law, but Ms. Almontaser’s lawyer provided a copy of the letter to The New York Times.

“There is no question that this is an important step in the road to her ultimate vindication,” said Alan Levine, Ms. Almontaser’s lawyer. “Up until now, the D.O.E. has really had its way and hasn’t had to answer for its actions.”

In a statement, a lawyer for the city disputed the commission’s findings.

The Department of Education “in no way discriminated against Ms. Almontaser and she will not be reinstated,” said Paul Marks, the city’s deputy chief of labor and employment law in the Law Department. “If she continues to pursue litigation, we will vigorously defend against her groundless allegations.”

The controversy surrounding the dual-language school began in early 2007, shortly after the city announced that Ms. Almontaser, a longtime teacher, would lead it. A group of opponents, including conservative commentators and a City University trustee, mounted a campaign against the school and Ms. Almontaser, claiming that she carried a militant Islamic agenda.

Despite Ms. Almontaser’s longstanding reputation as a moderate Muslim, her critics succeeded in recasting her as a “9/11 denier” and a “jihadist.”

The conflict came to a head that August, when Ms. Almontaser’s opponents, who had formed the Stop the Madrassa Coalition, asserted that she was connected to T-shirts bearing the words “Intifada NYC.” While Ms. Almontaser was on the board of an organization that rented space to the group that distributed the shirts, she was unaware of them, she said. (The commission determined that she had no connection to the T-shirts.)

Nonetheless, in response to mounting inquiries about the shirts, the Department of Education pressured her to give an interview to The New York Post, she said. In that interview, with a department employee listening in, she explained that the root of the word intifada meant “shaking off,” but that it had acquired other connotations because of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle.

The next day, The Post published the article under the headline “City Principal Is ‘Revolting’ — Tied to ‘Intifada NYC’ Tee Shirts,” stating that Ms. Almontaser had “downplayed the significance” of the T-shirts. (Federal judges later issued a ruling — related to a lawsuit brought by Ms. Almontaser — stating that The Post had reported her words “incorrectly and misleadingly.”)

It was The Post’s article, the commission wrote in its letter this week, that prompted the Department of Education to force Ms. Almontaser to resign. (City officials have said that she resigned voluntarily.)

“Significantly, it was not her actual remarks, but their elaboration by the reporter — creating waves of explicit anti-Muslim bias from several extremist sources — that caused D.O.E. to act,” the commission’s letter said.

Pressure soon mounted for Ms. Almontaser to step down. Randi Weingarten, the head of the teacher’s union, published a letter in The Post that was sharply critical of Ms. Almontaser. She finally resigned on Aug. 10, under pressure from the mayor’s office, she said. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced the resignation on his radio show, saying, “she’s certainly not a terrorist,” while adding that she was “not all that media savvy, maybe.”

Ms. Almontaser continued working with the department in an administrative job, at her principal’s salary of about $120,000, but that job was eliminated and she was demoted.

The lawsuit that she filed against the city, claiming that her First Amendment rights had been violated because she was forced to resign after saying something controversial, was dismissed. She is appealing that decision.

A lawyer for the Stop the Madrassa Coalition said he found the commission’s determination predictable. “I think the E.E.O.C. is constitutionally constructed to find discrimination in a high-profile case,” said the lawyer, David Yerushalmi.

But the development struck other lawyers as surprising. Bill Lann Lee, a labor-law expert in San Francisco, said the commission rarely issued such rulings, and so its decision might help Ms. Almontaser if she pursued a discrimination lawsuit.

“The courts tend to consider what the E.E.O.C. finds,” he said, adding that “the courts know generally that these findings are very rare, so if there is such a finding, there’s a general belief among lawyers and judges that there may be something there.”

nytimes.com/2010/03/13/nyregion/13principal.html?partner=rss&emc=rss
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« Reply #1 on: Mar 18, 2010 06:37 PM »

NYC’s Jihad Against Debbie Almontaser


By Amy Goodman

Debbie Almontaser has won a victory in her battle against discrimination. She was the founding principal of the first Arabic-language public school in the United States, until a campaign of hate forced her out. She is well known for her success in bridging cultural divides, bringing together Muslims, Christians and Jews, yet as the new school neared its opening date in the summer of 2007, she became the target of anti-Muslim and anti-Arab attacks. Last week, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ruled that the New York City Department of Education (DOE) discriminated against her “on account of her race, religion and national origin.”

The school is called the Khalil Gibran International Academy. Gibran was a Lebanese-born writer and philosopher. His best-known book, “The Prophet,” published in 1923, has sold more than 100 million copies in 40 languages. A line from “The Prophet,” prominent on the academy’s website, reads, “The teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind.”

But open-mindedness was hardly the response of a fringe group called Stop the Madrassa. The group used the Arabic word for school because of its negative connotations with religious schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The academy was developed as a secular, dual-language public school for sixth through 12th grades and had no religious curriculum. As the small but vocal group of opponents continued to take issue with the planned school, the DOE compelled Almontaser to submit to an interview with Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post. The article’s headline read: “City Principal Is ‘Revolting.’ ”

In the interview, Almontaser was asked to explain the use of the word intifada, because the word appeared on a T-shirt of a women’s organization that sometimes used the offices of a community group where she was a board member. The T-shirt had nothing to do with the Khalil Gibran International Academy. Almontaser told me: “He asked me one or two questions about the school and then asked me for the root word of the word intifada. As an educator, I simply responded and said to him that it comes from the root word of the word infad in Arabic, which is ‘shake off’; however, this word has developed a negative connotation based on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, where thousands of people have died. Within the interview, I stated that I ... condemn all violence, any shape, way or form.”

Her lawyer, Alan Levine, told me: “Debbie was the victim of a smear campaign. ... The bigots in the community had no power to fire; the Department of Education did. They succumbed to the bigots.” The EEOC report concluded, “DOE succumbed to the very bias that the creation of the school was intended to dispel, and a small segment of the public succeeded in imposing its prejudices on DOE as an employer.” Almontaser is seeking reinstatement as principal of the KGIA, along with back pay, damages and legal fees. The New York City Law Department has vowed to fight her. Levine hopes for a settlement, but is prepared to file a lawsuit, saying: “The EEOC, which has no ax to grind [and] is the country’s premier agency with regard to employment discrimination claims, says that they did discriminate. I’ll go with the EEOC. I’m confident that a judge or jury will.” Days after the EEOC letter was delivered, the non-Arab-American principal of the KGIA stepped down, without explanation, and was replaced by an Arab-American educator.

Three years ago, in the midst of the firestorm, a group of prominent Jewish leaders, including 15 rabbis, wrote an open letter to the Jewish community in support of Almontaser, saying, “We seek your support and respect for a colleague and friend who has suffered and continues to suffer from a disturbing and growing prejudice in our midst ... her return to her children [at the KGIA] will only bring greater peace and understanding between people of all faiths in our educational system and in our city as a whole.” This case, as a metaphor, has broader implications, as protests continue in the streets of Jerusalem following the Israeli announcement of thousands of new housing units in occupied East Jerusalem, blindsiding Vice President Joe Biden as he began a peacemaking visit there.

Almontaser told me, “It’s my life’s dream ... to lead a school, to establish an institution that would set precedents in helping building bridges of understanding and certainly creating young people who will be global thinkers, competing in the 21st century work force.” Hers is a vision the New York City Department of Education should embrace, with her prompt reinstatement.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 800 stations in North America. She is the author of “Breaking the Sound Barrier,” recently released in paperback and now a New York Times best-seller.
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