New York

Next stop federal court in Khalil Gibran saga

Federal court could be the next stop in the drawn-out drama surrounding Khalil Gibran International Academy, the Arabic-language school where the founding principal was forced to resign before the doors even opened.

Earlier this month, a federal employment panel ruled that the city had discriminated against the principal, Debbie Almontaser. But the panel, the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, does not have the authority to impose consequences when it finds evidence of discrimination. Instead, it brings the groups together to negotiate a plan of action.

But yesterday the city told the Almontaser it wasn’t interested in negotiating, according to a group that has organized to support Khalil Gibran.

What’s next? The EEOC can choose to bring a lawsuit against an employer who rejects negotiation, and according to Khalil Gibran’s supporters, it has already referred Almontaser’s case to the federal justice department. Almontaser and her lawyers have said that they plan to sue based on the EEOC’s ruling. So the city could be facing a costly two-pronged legal attack over Khalil Gibran’s principalship.

As for the struggling school, all hopes rest on a new principal, the fourth since the school opened in 2007.

A press release from the group supporting the school is below:



   EEOC Refers Case to Department of Justice to Consider Action Against City

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                           March 24, 2010

Contact: Mona Eldahry 917-703-0488; Donna Nevel 917-570-4371

The Department of Education (DOE) has notified the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that it is unwilling to engage in a process of conciliation concerning the EEOC’s finding that the DOE discriminated against Debbie Almontaser when it forced her to resign as acting principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy. The DOE’s position was conveyed to Ms. Almontaser and her lawyers in a letter received yesterday.

The EEOC’s ruling on March 9, 2010 had given the DOE until March 24 to indicate whether it would work with Ms. Almontaser’s lawyers and the EEOC to reach a “just resolution” of her claim.  Within hours of receiving the EEOC’s ruling, the DOE responded that it had “in no way discriminated against Ms. Almontaser and she will not be reinstated.”

Commenting on the DOE’s unwillingness to engage in conciliation, Cynthia Rollings, one of Ms. Almontaser’s lawyers, said: “Given the DOE’s dismissive response to the EEOC ruling, we were not surprised to learn that the DOE now says it is unwilling to engage in conciliation. The response is clearly prompted by considerations having nothing to do with the substance of the EEOC Determination.”  Co-counsel Alan Levine concurred: “The EEOC’s finding of discrimination is thorough and persuasive.  The DOE’s cavalier dismissal of that finding is stark evidence that the merits of the ruling played no part in its refusal to engage in conciliation discussions.”

Ms. Almontaser’s lawyers announced that they intend to bring a lawsuit based on Ms. Almontaser’s discrimination claim.  In addition, as a result of the DOE’s refusal to conciliate, the EEOC has referred the case to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to consider whether it, too, will bring a court action against the DOE.

“Although all of us familiar with these events knew that the DOE had discriminated against Debbie Almontaser, this is the first time that a finding of discrimination has been made by an impartial agency. We have all witnessed the DOE’s arrogance on many occasions, but this is particularly appalling,” stated Ujju Aggarwal of the Center for Immigrant Families.

“This case is of great importance to the Arab and Muslim communities, and we will urge our political representatives to contact the DOJ in an effort to get the DOJ to sue, ” said Dalia Mahmoud of the Muslim Public Affairs Council-NYC (MPAC-NYC).


call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”