Intifada Dhabah - Judge rejects Khalil Gibran principal's attempts to get job back
December 6, 2007
Arabic Principal Loses Return Bid
December 6, 2007 -- The ousted principal of a controversial Arabic public school who made statements defending the use of the slogan "Intifada NYC" on T-shirts won't be getting her old job back, after a federal judge rejected her bid to stop the city from hiring a replacement.
Manhattan federal Judge Sidney Stein ruled that Debbie Almontaser was not protected by a constitutional right to free speech when she defined the term "intifada" as "shaking off oppression" in response to a Post reporter's questions about the T-shirts.
Founder and former acting principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy in Brooklyn, Almontaser sparked a firestorm of public criticism with her statements, prompting Mayor Bloomberg's office to seek her immediate resignation in August.
Almontaser filed a lawsuit last month requesting that the judge stop the city's hiring process and put the decision in the hands of a "disinterested" party, rather than the superintendent of District 15 and Department of Education Chancellor Joel Klein.
Stein rejected that request and said that Almontaser's claims that she suffered retaliation by the city were unsupported by evidence at a two-day hearing this week.
"The speech is not protected," Stein said, adding that Almontaser spoke to The Post in her official capacity as a public employee, not as a private citizen.
Almontaser is allowed to go forward with her lawsuit for emotional harm and breach of contract, though the judge said it is unlikely she will succeed in proving the merits of the case.
In testimony this week, Almontaser denied having any affiliation with the T-shirts or the organization that produced them and blamed everyone from the media to the mayor for jeopardizing her career.
"I'm disappointed. I think the judge was wrong," Almontaser's lawyer, Alan Levine, said outside court. "What he said about her speech could ultimately be very damaging to her case."
-----------------December 6, 2007
A judge ruled yesterday against the claim of the founding principal of New York City's first Arabic-themed school that her right to free speech was violated when she was forced out during a furor over comments she made in a newspaper interview.
In a preliminary finding in the case, Judge Sidney H. Stein of Federal District Court in Manhattan ruled against Debbie Almontaser, who had been principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy in Brooklyn.
Ms. Almontaser sued Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, saying they violated her First Amendment rights by pressuring her to step down after discussing the history of the word "intifada" during an August interview. She had been criticized for not condemning the use of the word on a T-shirt.
The judge said that Ms. Almontaser had participated in the interview as school principal, and that since her employer was responsible for supervising messages to the public, her speech was not protected.
Ms. Almontaser said that the intent of her words about intifada had been distorted. The judge, though, noted that she had been instructed by the schools' public relations staff not to discuss the T-shirts.
The New York Civil Liberties Union criticized the judge's ruling. "This is just another example of how recent Supreme Court rulings are undermining constitutional rights in general and First Amendment rights in particular," said Christopher Dunn, associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.
The judge also refused Ms. Almontaser's request that he stop the city from looking for a new principal.
The ruling did not end the case, however. The lawsuit proceeds to a trial based on more evidence, rather than the two-day hearing on which the judge based his preliminary ruling.
The school is the first in the city to teach Arab culture and language. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/06/nyregion/06arabic.html?ref=nyregion