Opinion
Education Letter to the Editor

Muslim Principal’s Case Remains in Litigation

September 22, 2009 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

To the Editor:

Your news item “Principal’s Comments to Press Were Not Protected Speech” (“Principal’s Comments to Press Were Not Protected Speech,” Sept. 7, 2009), about the recent decision in Almontaser v. New York City Department of Education, implies that the case is over. It is not.

The decision is the latest chapter of a controversy that began with the selection of Debbie Almontaser to head the newly created Khalil Gibran International Academy, an Arab dual-language school. Almost from the day she was appointed, Ms. Almontaser, an observant Muslim, was subjected to a virulent anti-Arab and anti-Muslim smear campaign. When she was interviewed by the New York Post in August of 2007 and was asked about the Arabic meaning of the word “intifada,” which had appeared on T-shirts that were sold at an Arab Heritage festival, her response provoked a firestorm of controversy, even though the definition she gave, “shaking off,” was accurate. Her response also noted that the word had become associated with violence in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

Nevertheless, city and school officials demanded her resignation. She subsequently filed a federal lawsuit charging that her First Amendment rights had been violated.

Given the skepticism that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit expressed about the New York City Department of Education’s actions, when it asked “whether a public employee, who is required by her employer to speak to the press as a condition of her employment, may be sanctioned for speaking accurately when her statement is, as her employer knows, inaccurately reported and then misconstrued by the press,” we had hoped that U.S. District Court Judge Sidney H. Stein would reconsider his earlier decision in the case. However, we will appeal again to the 2nd Circuit court. In addition, we will continue to pursue Ms. Almontaser’s claim before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and eventually in federal court, that the education department, in capitulating to the storm of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim prejudice that was directed at Ms. Almontaser in the media, discriminated against her on the basis of religion and ethnicity.

Nothing in the recent decision questions the underlying facts concerning the department’s actions: Ms. Almontaser was the taget of hate-filled attacks because she was an Arab and a Muslim and because she said something that public officials disagreed with. Our Constitution and statutes are designed to ensure that prejudice and controversial speech do not cost people their jobs. We are confident that the courts will ultimately vindicate those basic human rights.

Alan Levine

New York, N.Y.

(The writer is Debbie Almontaser’s lawyer.)

A version of this article appeared in the September 23, 2009 edition of Education Week as Muslim Principal’s Case Remains in Litigation

Events

Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
A Whole Child Approach to Supporting Positive Student Behavior 
To improve student behavior, it’s important to look at the root causes. Social-emotional learning may play a preventative role.

A whole child approach can proactively support positive student behaviors.

Join this webinar to learn how.
Content provided by Panorama
Student Achievement Webinar Examining the Evidence: What We’re Learning From the Field About Implementing High-Dosage Tutoring Programs
Tutoring programs have become a leading strategy to address COVID-19 learning loss. What evidence-based principles can district and school leaders draw on to design, implement, measure, and improve high-quality tutoring programs? And what are districts

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Briefly Stated: November 17, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Nearly a Million Kids Vaccinated in Week 1, White House Says
Experts say there are signs that it will be difficult to sustain the initial momentum.
4 min read
Leo Hahn, 11, gets the first shot of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021, at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle. Last week, U.S. health officials gave the final signoff to Pfizer's kid-size COVID-19 shot, a milestone that opened a major expansion of the nation's vaccination campaign to children as young as 5. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Education How Schools Are Getting Kids the COVID Shot, and Why Some Aren’t
Some district leaders say offering vaccine clinics, with the involvement of trusted school staff, is key to helping overcome hesitancy.
5 min read
A girl walks outside of a mobile vaccine unit after getting the first dose of her COVID-19 vaccine, outside P.S. 277, Friday, Nov. 5, 2021, in the Bronx borough of New York. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)
Education Biden Administration Urges Schools to Provide COVID-19 Shots, Information for Kids
The Biden administration is encouraging local school districts to host vaccine clinics for kids and information on benefits of the shots.
2 min read
President Joe Biden, and first lady Jill Biden walk to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021. Biden is spending the weekend at his home in Rehoboth Beach, Del. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)