same old story at bok high school

We recently heard the news about the two Asian immigrant students who were attacked by a group of bullies at Bok High School in Philadelphia.

While school administrators attributed it to a freshman hazing incident -- simply classifying it as a case of "kids being kids" -- Helen Gym recently wrote blog post for the Philadelphia Public School Notebook about what's wrong and dangerous about this dismissive assessment: Bok and South Philly High: What's different and what hasn't changed.

Helen also connects the incident at Bok with the violence that has plagued South Philadelphia High School, identifying how the situations -- and the way they were handled -- were similar and different to each other. Here are some of the troubling aspects that remained the same at Bok:
  • Normalization of violence: "Freshman Day," "an isolated incident," "hazing" - this language minimized and downplayed a situation in which two youth were targeted by multiple classmates in the middle of the school day and sent to the emergency room. Moreover, is freshman hazing suddenly OK for the School District? I'm a mother of a ninth grader next year. Why is there no outrage or even mention about hazing from District/SRC leadership? This is a practice banned by colleges and universities across the country. Yet at last week's SRC meeting, not a word of mention about the Bok attacks, hazing, or concern about continued bias incidents in the school system. And so the system rumbles on.

  • Suspension-oriented solutions and lack of school wide dialogue: According to Bok officials, there were at least ten student assailants as well as a larger group of watchers. The school says it has IDed one student assailant and will recommend harsh punishment. But when so many students have either participated in or witnessed such violence, making an example of one student doesn't adequately address broader issues at hand. Clearly, a dialogue at the school needs to happen among both students and staff.

  • Language access/needs of immigrant communities: According to the principal, Bok High School has gone from 3 percent to 17 percent Asian in five years. That's a huge leap in population, which should demand additional training and resources for the school's leadership team and staff. Teaching staff how to get instant translation, how to strategically deploy bilingual counseling assistants, how to communicate with family and students at the school - these are the basics the District should provide to every school with significant immigrant populations.

  • Anti-Asian bias: Anti-Asian bias is real, and it's not just a problem among the youth. The U.S. Dept. of Justice didn't issue a finding of merit because some kids got into a fight and couldn't get along. They came in because the School District had failed to acknowledge and address racial bias against Asian youth - to the point that it may have violated their constitutional rights. This also is way beyond bullying. The cases we are documenting involve large groups of youth attacking one or two Asian immigrant victims who are apparently targeted because of their race. When the District minimizes or distracts from the manner of the attacks, then it becomes part of the problem.
And man, we're just talking about the beginning of the school year. The District has paid a lot of lip service talking up all the changes it's making to address school violence. It's pretty clear from what happened at Bok that change isn't coming easy. Big props to the community organizations on the ground in Philadelphia that are speaking out and putting the pressure on administrators on behalf of victimized students.

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