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Arabic school names Baysider interim head

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A Bayside man who previously held leadership roles at high schools in Bayside and Cambria Heights has been named the interim principal of the city’s sole Arabic-language public school after its principal left to become a literacy coach at a Flushing school, a city Department of Education spokesman said.

Beshir Abdellatif of Bayside was named interim acting principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, last week, DOE spokesman David Cantor said. The school, which opened in 2007, is the first in the nation to emphasize the study of Arabic language and culture.

Abdellatif, originally from Tunisia, has worked in city schools for the past 19 years, previously as a social studies teacher at Ridgewood’s Grover Cleveland High School before becoming an assistant principal at Bayside High School.

Prior to his recent move to Khalil Gibran, he acted as principal for the Law, Government and Community Service High School in Cambria Heights. But Abdellatif would not speak about his role at the Brooklyn high school, Cantor said.

“He’s not going to do any interviews until he is named permanent principal at Khalil Gibran,” Cantor said. “He’s there on an interim basis. He’s not comfortable until he knows if he’ll be staying there.”

Holly Anne Reichert, Abdellatif’s predecessor, resigned from her post at the school March 15 after taking a job as a literacy coach at Flushing’s East-West School of International Studies, Cantor said.

The switching of principals has occurred amid the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s determination March 12 that discrimination was involved in the 2007 resignation of Debbie Almontaser, the founding principal of Khalil Gibran.

Controversy surrounded Almontaser after some of her critics had attempted to link her to an organization that sold T-shirts that read, “Intifada USA.” Almontaser, of Yemeni descent, told the New York Post she did not believe the term “intifada” necessarily equaled a violent uprising, but rather a “shaking off” of oppression.

She was later forced to resign, accusing the city of discriminating against her.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that “the DOE succumbed to the very bias that the creation of the school was intended to dispel” in forcing Almontaser to step down.

Alan Levine, one of Almontaser’s attorneys, praised the decision in a statement.

“Debbie Almontaser was victimized twice: first, when she was subjected to an ugly smear campaign orchestrated by anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigots and, second, when the DOE capitulated to their bigotry,” Levine said.

Almontaser’s supporters have called for her to be reinstated at the school.

But Paul Marks, deputy chief of labor and employment law at the city’s Law Department, slammed the commission’s decision.

“The EEOC’s finding is without any basis whatsoever,” he said. “The DOE in no way discriminated against Ms. Almontaser and she will not be reinstated. If she continues to pursue litigation, we will vigorously defend against her groundless allegations.”

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at nduke@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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