Arab-language school gets new principal

January 8, 2008 8:36:50 PM PST
There is a new principal Tuesday for New York City's first, only and controversial Arabic-language school.The new principal replaces a woman who was forced to resign when she didn't condemn a T-shirt with the Arabic word "Intifada" on it.

Education reporter Art McFarland has more.

With a sense of confidence, Holly Reichert stepped into the most controversial principal's job in the city.

"I am completely excited and thrilled to be the new principal of Khalil Gibran International Academy," she said.

The controversy concerns Debbie Almontaser, who was meant to be the founding principal of the city's first public school for Arabic studies. She was forced to resign before the school year began for not denouncing T-shirts that read "Intifada," a word associated with terrorism.

Almontaser was not available for comment.

Reichert's appointment comes about a month after a federal judge rejected a lawsuit that sought to reinstate Almontaser. That case is still on appeal, and Almontaser has supporters who still think she should be principal.

"Given the circumstances that Debbie Almontaser was forced to resign due to anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racism, this appointment is illegitimate," said Mona Eldahry, of Arab Women Active in the Arts and Media.

Some students have apparently met Reichert.

"I think she seems really nice, and I think she'll be a real nice principal," student Sdahra Mohammed said. "I hope she has a good career here."

Reichert speaks Arabic and has served as a teacher in the Middle East. She says Arabic studies are just a part of the curriculum.

The group that campaigned loudest against the former principal of Khalil Gibran is also speaking out. "Stop the Madrassa," officials say they hope the new principal is a wise choice. But the group still wants the mayor to close the school.