A planned Arabic-themed public school in Brooklyn has prompted polarized reactions. Critics warned Monday that students could be “indoctrinated” with radical Islamic beliefs and supporters called such statements “racist.”
The Khalil Gibran International Academy has generated controversy almost from the start. Supporters rallied Monday in favor of the school, gathering in front of the city’s Department of Education. Officials there have said they plan to open the academy on schedule on Sept. 4 despite statements by its vocal critics equating it with a madrassa, an Islamic religious school, and portraying it as a potential radical training ground.
The school is named for Khalil Gibran, the Lebanese-American Christian poet.
The school’s first principal resigned after criticism over her affiliation with a group that sells t-shirts with the word “intifada” on them. Debbie Almontaser called it quits after she failed to condemn the use of the highly charged word, an Arabic term for the Palestinian uprising against Israel. The DOE appointed an interim replacement, Danielle Salzburg, on August 13. Her appointment has drawn its own controversy because she is Jewish and doesn’t speak Arabic.
New York Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn) said the school’s children could be “indoctrinated” and warned in a statement that “establishment of an Arab school is a misguided and dangerous idea.” He wrote a letter to Schools Chancellor Joel Klein to protest the school’s opening.
Meantime also Monday, the New York Immigration Coalition rallied outside the Department of Education to voice support of the school, calling for city and school officials to stand firmly behind the program. “If we are to truly ensure the success of the Khalil Gibran school, its defenders, including the mayor, chancellor, and the broader community, must vigorously condemn accusations challenging the school’s legitimacy in the first place—accusations that a theme-based school that teaches Arabic language and culture is somehow likely to promote radical Islam and terrorism,” said Alwan for the Arts, American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and the New York Arab American Association, in a joint statement.