The Khalil Gibran International Academy was conceived as a public embrace of New York City’s growing Arab population and of internationalism, the first public school dedicated to the study of the Arabic language and culture and open to students of all racial and ethnic backgrounds.

But nearly three months after plans for the middle school were first announced, a beleaguered Department of Education is fending off attacks from two angry camps: parents from Public School 282, the elementary school in Park Slope, Brooklyn, that was assigned to share building space with the Khalil Gibran school, and a handful of columnists who have called the proposed academy a madrassa, which teaches the Koran.

Now the chancellor of schools, Joel I. Klein, is considering other locations for the school, or even postponing the opening for a year, according to several people involved in the discussions, and the whole endeavor has been turned into a test of tolerance – and its limits – in post-9/11, multiethnic New York.

The principal, Debbie Almontaser, who came to America from Yemen at age 3 and who organized peace rallies and urged tolerance after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has been vilified on Web sites as having an “Islamist agenda.”

Ms. Almontaser said she was prepared for the reaction. “Quite frankly, I don’t let it bother me,” she said. “I don’t lose sleep over it. My main objective is the opening of the school.”

Friends of the teacher, who is known as a moderate active in interfaith groups, call the accusation preposterous.

“It’s tragic that they should be targeting her,” said the Rev. Dr. Daniel Meeter, pastor of Old First Reformed Church in Park Slope.


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