Rival Papers to Blame for Muslim Principal's Resignation

August 15th, 2007 12:50 PM

Wednesday's Metro Page 1 story by Julie Bosman and Jennifer Medina, "How a New Arabic School Roused the City's Old Rivalries," deflected blame from the controversial principal of an Arabic-language school and onto two of the Times' rival newspapers.

Bosman has written two flattering stories about Debbie Almontaser, the principal of the Brooklyn-based Khalil Gibran International Academy. Almontaser was forced to resign after defending the use of "Intifada NYC" as a slogan on T-shirts sold by an activist group which shares an office with the Yemeni-American association that Almontaser represents.

"When aides to Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein were presented last fall with a proposal for an Arabic language and culture school, they thought the idea could be controversial. But they said they could not resist the appeal of a school that seemed right for the times and that would be a piece of the school system's mosaic of dual-language programs.

There's a snippy tone toward the papers that beat them to the story, which the Times didn't pick up on until the principal had actually resigned:

"Those intentions ran straight into the treacherous ethnic and ideological political currents of New York and were overwhelmed by poor planning, inadequate support for the principal and relentless criticism from some quarters of the news media, primarily The New York Post and The New York Sun.

"The founding principal of the school, known as the Khalil Gibran International Academy, Debbie Almontaser, a Yemeni immigrant with a long pedigree in the school system, resigned on Friday under pressure after defending the word 'intifada' as a T-shirt slogan. On Monday, the schools chancellor hastily appointed Danielle Salzberg, an educator who is Jewish and speaks no Arabic, as the interim principal, prompting taunting tabloid headlines like 'School Bad Idea Even Before Hebrew Ha-ha.'"

The Times avoided the unflattering details of the T-shirt controversy.

"Only months after plans for the school were announced, a group of vocal parents and administrators at Public School 282 in Park Slope, which was to share space with Khalil Gibran, managed to have it moved elsewhere. Columnists in The New York Sun began attacking the school and suggesting that Ms. Almontaser was an extremist. Some high-profile figures, like Diane Ravitch, the historian of the New York school system, questioned why the city should have specialized language and cultural schools at all."

The Times portrayed Almontaser as a passive victim.

"And Ms. Almontaser, with her limited experience as an administrator in the public eye, appeared unprepared for the onslaught."