Kia Franklin

I had to resign from my school, and all I got was this T-Shirt (Gettin Schooled, pt 1)

There's a lot going on in the news related to schools and lawsuits--I'll cover a few of these stories on TD today. So for "Gettin' Schooled, Installment 1," let's talk about this lawsuit over the principal who resigned and was denied the opportunity to reapply for the position, all over language on a t-shirt.

Yesterday Debbie Almontaser, the founding principal of NYC's first Arabic-language school, Khalil Gibran International Academy, filed suit against the Education Department, the Chancellor and the Mayor. Ms. Almontaser alleges free speech and due process violations and says the Mayor and others "conspired to deny her the opportunity to regain her position as principal.” She resigned this summer after controversy over use of the word “intifada” on a T-shirt. (Folllow that link to learn more about the different positions around the use of the word) She called this a smear campaign by conservatives to get rid of her and to attack the mission and vision of the school, and vowed to reapply for her position after the furor died down. Prior interviews suggest that her decision to resign was a combination of political pressure from the Mayor and a desire to protect the school--and the students, families, and teachers who support it--from being unjustly attacked.

She reapplied, but Education Department officials said they would not consider her application among the 25 others that were submitted for the position. Why? We don't know, so right now all we got is a T-shirt. That sounds like a potential free speech issue to me. And denying her the right to even apply---due process? Check.

We'll see how things develop, but this is an interesting scenario, once again showing that politics are everywhere, even with the sixth graders. It makes me wonder what would have happened had Ms. Almontaser never resigned. Would she have been fired? And would the parties be right back at the courthouse again with a free speech claim on their hands?

Just as an aside, I find the opposition to this school really interesting, to say the least. Growing up, there was a big broohaha over the establishment of African American Academy in Seattle. It was one of the first charter schools in the area. This was about 17 years ago. But eventually the community recognized it as a unique and valuable space, welcoming of all kids and their families, that added something to the school system. In other words, the haters were eventually converted. Nowadays, we have all sorts of culturally themed schools, many of which are absolutely thriving. Brooklyn has a Greek-centered charter elementary school, for instance. There have been no claims that the Khalil Gibran school is discriminating against kids in admissions or forcing religion down anyone's throats--it's about celebrating language and culture. I don't see what the problem is. (Oh, wait, maybe it's anti-Islamic sentiment. Yeah, I guess that's the problem.)

We'll keep this case tabbed to follow in the future.

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Posted at 10:11 AM, Nov 21, 2007 in In the News
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