The founding principal of the city's Arabic-language school is fighting to get her job back, and she will take the city to court to get it.
Debbie Almontaser said yesterday that she is preparing a lawsuit against the Department of Education, and possibly Mayor Bloomberg, accusing them of violating her constitutional rights by forcing her out of the Khalil Gibran International Academy in Brooklyn.
Ms. Almontaser's lawyer, Alan Levine, said the case will hinge on the First Amendment, arguing that she was forced out because of a public statement.
In August, Ms. Almontaser sent a resignation letter to the schools chancellor, Joel Klein, days after responding to questions from the New York Post about T-shirts bearing the slogan "Intifada NYC." She said the shirts drew on a nonviolent meaning of the word, promoting "an opportunity for girls to express that they are part of New York City society … and shaking off oppression."
In the letter, Ms. Almontaser wrote that she was stepping down in order to protect the school, where she said students and parents were beginning to feel frightened by attacks from opponents. But yesterday, in her first public appearance in months, Ms. Almontaser said representatives of Messrs. Bloomberg and Klein demanded her resignation, threatening to close the school if she refused.
A Department of Education spokeswoman, Melody Meyer, said no officials made such a threat.
The Khalil Gibran school's curriculum, which focuses on Arabic language and culture, grew out of an effort by Muslim and Arab leaders, led by Ms. Almontaser, to build a community-based school in Brooklyn. Concerns that the school could become a breeding ground for terrorists led a coalition, called Stop the Madrassa, to lobby for its closure. The "intifada" T-shirt story came out of the group's investigations into the Brooklyn Muslim community, which disclosed that Ms. Almontaser had ties to the women selling the T-shirts.
Ms. Almontaser's appearance yesterday was timed to the deadline for applications to become principal of Khalil Gibran. A Jewish woman who speaks no Arabic, Danielle Salzberg, has been acting as temporary principal. The Department of Education has received 25 applications for the position, Ms. Meyer said.
Ms. Almontaser, who is still employed at the Department of Education in an administrative position, has been lobbying for the job for several weeks, but her acceptance seems unlikely. Ms. Meyer said she will not be appointed principal, and another spokesman, David Cantor, said the chancellor "considers the matter closed."
Jewish and Muslim community leaders, a representative of the president of Brooklyn, Marty Markowitz, and three City Council members joined the news conference yesterday to condemn Ms. Almontaser's treatment by the Department of Education.
One City Council member, Leticia James, who represents an area close to the school, in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, said she decided to support Ms. Almontaser after constituents explained to her that the word "intifada" has different interpretations.
"This administration misunderstood the culture of my community, my constituents," Ms. James said. "It's time that they be educated as well."