CITY ARABIC SCHOOL IS SHORT ON, UM, ARABIC
By CHUCK BENNETT
August 10, 2007 — The controversial Khalil Gibran International Academy scheduled to open next month has attracted only a handful of Arabic-speaking students, The Post has learned.
Just six Arabic speakers and one English-language learner out of 44 registered students have enrolled at the Brooklyn public academy that critics fear will become a city-funded Islamic school.
“We didn’t anticipate a full 50-50 split,” said Department of Education spokeswoman Melody Meyer.
The English-Arabic school was envisioned by Principal Debbie Almontaser as a multicultural institution serving grades 6-12 for native Arabic speakers and students wanting to learn the language. Students would become fluent in both languages while immersed in Arab culture and history under her plan.
At least for the first year there will only be a handful of sixth-grade students able to enjoy the boxes of books and textbooks translated into Arabic that Almontaser ordered.
Not only did the school fail to fill all 60 seats, but it hasn’t attracted a diverse student body, DOE numbers show.
Some 75 percent of students identified themselves as “black,” according to the department. It declined to provide an exact figure, citing privacy laws.
There are no concerns about the racial disparities, Meyer said.
Almontaser came under fire this week for her comments to The Post that appeared to condone “Intifada NYC” T-shirts.
The shirts are sold by the activist group Arab Women Active in Arts and Media that operates out of the same office as a Yemeni-American association that Almontaser represents.
Rather than denounce the shirts, Almontaser tried to explain that “intifada” means “shaking off” and the shirts represented women “shaking off” oppression. She later condemned the T-shirt message’s connection to Palestinian terrorism.
As The Post reported yesterday, United Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten slammed Almontaser’s comments. She called the T-shirts “warmongering.”
Other parts of Almontaser’s vision for her school aren’t going according to plan, either.
The DOE denied her request to serve “halal” meals sanctioned by Islamic law in the school’s cafeteria. It said the school would be treated like any other public school.
Students wanting the meals permissible under Islamic law can bring them from home, Meyer said.
The DOE also said retired Arabic-speaking community members whom Almontaser wants to converse with students during lunch periods will first have to go through a background check.
Almontaser did not return a call for comment.
The school is at 345 Dean St. in Boerum Hill, in the same building as the Brooklyn HS of the Arts and the Math and Science Exploratory School.