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Law Suit Accuses Ex-Principal [Deb] of Defamation

Reader comment on item: Debating the Khalil Gibran International Academy

Submitted by Krista (Canada), May 18, 2008 at 09:55


May 17, 2008

Suit Accuses Ex-Principal of Defamation

By ANDREA ELLIOTT

Clarification appended.

Three opponents of a Brooklyn public school that teaches Arabic filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against the school's founding principal, Debbie Almontaser, claiming that she had defamed them by saying they had stalked her.

The plaintiffs, Sara Springer, Irene Alter and Pamela Hall, are members of the Stop the Madrassa Coalition, a group that has protested the Khalil Gibran International Academy, which opened in Boerum Hill last fall. The women, who filed the lawsuit in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn, are seeking punitive damages.

Ms. Almontaser stepped down as the school's principal in a firestorm of controversy in August after an article in The New York Post stated that she had "downplayed the significance" of T-shirts bearing the slogan "Intifada NYC." Ms. Almontaser said that The Post had distorted her words and that she had been forced to resign by the mayor's office.

The lawsuit against Ms. Almontaser refers to, among other things, a statement she made on the steps of City Hall on Oct. 16 in which she said, "Members of the coalition stalked me wherever I went and verbally assaulted me with vicious anti-Arab and anti-Muslim comments." The suit cites a nearly identical statement in a complaint filed last fall in federal court by Ms. Almontaser against the mayor's office and the Department of Education.

Ms. Almontaser said she could not comment on the lawsuit, and her lawyer was unavailable.

Rabbi Michael Feinberg, a member of Communities in Support of KGIA, a group devoted to having Ms. Almontaser reinstated as the school principal, said: "They picked this whole fight from Day 1. I don't know if they stalked her or not. But they have been absolutely relentless in the campaign of lies, distortions and calumny to shut down the school and have Debbie step down as principal."

Ms. Alter denied this.

"It's a criminal offense to accuse someone of stalking," she said. "The reality is we've never done that. So we are quite upset."

Clarification: On Saturday morning, Ms. Alter said she had misspoken and that she should have said that the act of stalking, not the accusation, is a criminal offense.

Submitting....

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