khalilgibran.jpgBefore a single student has been enrolled, the Khalil Gibran International Academy is generating a significant amount of controversy. Debby Almontaser is a New York City educator with a Yemeni-Muslim background. She hopes to open an Arabic-themed school to build bridges and increase understanding between different cultures, but so far the opposite has been the result. Conservative commentators have criticized the undertaking as an effort to open a publicly funded madrassa, which is generally interpreted as an Islamic religious school. It's a notion that Almontaser disputes. From an article in WNBC's site:

"Being that we are a public school, we certainly are not going to be teaching religion," said Almontaser, 39. "Islam does not have a culture. Islam is a religion."

Given that Khalil Gibran was a Lebanese-Christian poet and artist, whose family moved to Massachusetts when Khalil was young and he learned English in a Boston school, the name for the Academy seems apt for a place that will emphasize bi-lingualism. Almontaser is planning to open the school in September, but is meeting resistance from the current users of PS 282 in Park Slope, where education officials suggested it be located. Parents of PS 282 students are worried about locating older kids (the Khalil Gibran International Academy will begin at the 6th-grade level) with their younger children and fear the new school could be a security risk.

(Photo of Khalil Gibran at age 13)