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8.31.2010

justice department "finds merit" in asian students' complaints against school district of philadelphia

An update on the situation at South Philly High... Last week, federal investigators informed the Philadelphia School District that they "found merit" in the claims of Asian students who said they were targeted and abused at South Philadelphia High School: Feds find merit in Asian students' claims against Philly school.

Earlier this year, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund filed a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice charging the School District of Philadelphia and South Philadelphia High School with discrimination against Asian students. Looks like the Justice Department agrees:
In a letter to the district, the Justice Department advised school officials to take steps to settle the matter. It was not immediately clear what form a settlement might take, though it would require the district to improve the treatment of Asian students, who say they have been mocked, harassed, and beaten at the school.

The action follows a formal civil rights complaint filed in January by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, an advocacy group. Such complaints do not result in criminal penalties, but can bring broad changes provided that violations are found to have occurred.

"The School District of Philadelphia acknowledges receiving from the U.S. Department of Justice a letter regarding the complaint filed against the district," district general counsel Michael Davis said in response to questions from The Inquirer. "The district is presently engaged in discussions with the Department of Justice seeking to resolve this matter amicably. Because of the ongoing discussions, the district will not comment further on this matter."

Superintendent Arlene Ackerman said the legal nature of the discussions limited how much she could say, but added that she was prepared to make changes.

"I'm certainly willing and anxious to bring whatever challenges and issues there are to closure, so that all the children there can get a great education in a great environment," she said. "Anything we can do to make the climate at South Philadelphia High one that's conducive to all student learning is something we want to do."

The changes would be a victory for Asian students and their advocates, who say complaints of harassment and physical violence were often ignored. The complaint cited at least 26 assaults against Asians during the 2008-09 school year alone, and charged that district inaction led to the violence of Dec. 3.
It's one thing to promise change, even with the Justice Department breathing down your neck. It's a whole other thing to see that change through, and make sure Asian students don't have to go to school in fear of getting their ass beat every day. Up to now, school district administrators have pretty much turned a blind eye to a very real, dangerous situation.

So I'll believe the change when see it. And this time, they'll have the federal government to answer to. Meanwhile, South Philadelphia High is about to start a new school year with a new principal -- its fifth in six years. Let's hope the students are coming back to a better, safer situation. More here: Advocates’ claim of systemic racial injustice at South Philly high has merit, say feds.

UPDATE: Also read this Philadelphia Public School Notebook article on the Department of Justice findings (it has a better summary of the situation): DOJ finds merit in S. Philly rights complaint.