School Climate & Safety

Attacks on Asian Students in Phila. Spur Complaint

By Mary Ann Zehr — January 21, 2010 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

An advocacy group for Asian-Americans has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice charging that the Philadelphia school district and South Philadelphia High School have shown “intentional disregard” for the welfare of Asian students at the high school.

The complaint, filed on Jan. 19 with the civil rights division of the Justice Department, alleges that Asian students’ civil rights under the U.S. Constitution were violated because “they suffered severe and pervasive peer-on-peer harassment based on their race and national origin” at the school, and both school and school district officials showed “deliberate indifference” to the situation.

“We’ve seen a long history of community advocates trying to get the school and district to address the problem,” said Cecilia Chen, a staff lawyer for the Philadelphia-based Asian-American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which filed the complaint.

The 161,000-student school system said in a statement in response to the complaint that it has taken numerous steps to address racial tension and violence in the schools, including asking a retired U.S. District Court judge to conduct an investigation into the situation at South Philadelphia High School.

The district’s office of school safety, the statement said, has added four school police officers for a total of 15 officers at the school; installed a state-of-the-art surveillance technology system including comprehensive coverage by new security cameras at vital locations within the building; worked with the Philadelphia police department to extend the “safe corridors” around the school; and brought in a conflict-resolution program of the U.S. Department of Justice’s community-relations service.

“The claim of ‘intentional discrimination’ makes no sense,” the district statement says. “Asserting that the district would have ‘intentional disregard’ for the welfare of its students is as outrageous as it is hurtful to so many professionals, students, and others who have been devoted to addressing these issues in a meaningful manner.”

‘Hostile Climate’

The complaint describes attacks on Asian students at South Philadelphia High School on Dec. 3 that were widely publicized in local news reports. It says 13 Asian students were sent to the hospital and received treatment for injuries resulting from the attacks. The complaint alleges that throughout the day, school officials learned of harassment against Asian students by African-American students, but did not intervene effectively.

Ms. Chen said none of the students was held overnight in the hospital, and the most serious injury was a broken nose. South Philadelphia High School’s enrollment is predominantly African-American, she said, with large minorities of Vietnamese and Chinese and a small group of Cambodians as well. All of the students who were attacked were English-language learners, she said.

After the attacks, some 60 Asian students boycotted attendance at South Philadelphia High School for eight days, saying they didn’t feel safe going to school, according to the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

The complaint says that more than a year before the incidents on Dec. 3, the advocacy group had reported cases of harassment against Asian students to school district and South Philadelphia High School officials. It adds: “School and district officials repeatedly reneged on promises to address the harassment, disregarded incidents of harassment against Asian students reported by advocates, and ignored the increasingly hostile climate toward Asian students at the school.”

The complaint also alleges that the high school and district violated the federal Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 because they didn’t provide appropriate translation and interpretation for English-language learners who were being harassed. The complaint says school district and high school officials had promised to create a brochure spelling out the school’s safety procedures and reporting protocol that would be translated into the appropriate languages, but they never delivered on that promise. Students were also promised that a Mandarin-speaking security guard would be assigned to the school, but that didn’t happen until after the Dec. 3 attacks, the complaint says.

In addition, English-language learners had reported that letters were regularly sent home to their parents only in English and weren’t translated into the home languages of their families.

Ms. Chen said Justice Department staff members have begun interviewing Asian students who were victims of the attacks on Dec. 3, but had not decided yet whether to conduct an investigation.

A version of this article appeared in the January 27, 2010 edition of Education Week

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
IT Infrastructure Webinar
A New Era In Connected Learning: Security, Accessibility and Affordability for a Future-Ready Classroom
Learn about Windows 11 SE and Surface Laptop SE. Enable students to unlock learning and develop new skills.
Content provided by Microsoft Surface
Classroom Technology K-12 Essentials Forum Making Technology Work Better in Schools
Join experts for a look at the steps schools are taking (or should take) to improve the use of technology in schools.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Budget & Finance Webinar
The ABCs of ESSER: How to Make the Most of Relief Funds Before They Expire
Join a diverse group of K-12 experts to learn how to leverage federal funds before they expire and improve student learning environments.
Content provided by Johnson Controls

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety Preventing Student Violence: 3 Key Takeaways
Advice from two experts on threat assessment and crisis response in schools.
3 min read
Crosses and flowers hang on a fence outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, near Parkland, Fla., in memory of the 17 people killed in a school shooting there in 2018.
Crosses and flowers were part of a memorial for the 17 people killed in a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in 2018. Following that shooting, schools around the country considered additional safety measures, including threat-assessment policies.
Brynn Anderson/AP
School Climate & Safety Responding to Student Threats: Schools Wrestle With How to Prevent Violence
The Buffalo shooting suspect made a threat at school last year, but wasn't flagged under the state's red flag law.
10 min read
A rifle hangs on display in the window of the West Endicott & Susquehanna Arms Co., Monday, May 16, 2022, where the Buffalo shooting suspect purchased fire arms in Endicott, N.Y.
A rifle hangs on display in the window of an Endicott, N.Y., gun shop where the Buffalo shooting suspect purchased firearms.
Michael Hill/AP
School Climate & Safety Grief, Anger, Fear: How Teachers Can Help Students Cope With the Buffalo Shooting
After a gunman killed 10 people in a racist attack, teachers again wrestled with how to explain hate and mass violence to students.
A person pays his respects outside the scene of a shooting at a supermarket, in Buffalo, N.Y., Sunday, May 15, 2022.
A mourner pays his respects outside the scene of a racially-motivated mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y.
Matt Rourke/AP
School Climate & Safety Accused Gunman in Buffalo Shooting Was Investigated for Threat to His School
The gunman was never charged with a crime and had no further contact with law enforcement after his release from a hospital, officials said.
3 min read
Police walk outside the Tops grocery store on Sunday, May 15, 2022, in Buffalo, N.Y. A white 18-year-old wearing military gear and livestreaming with a helmet camera opened fire with a rifle at the supermarket, killing and wounding people in what authorities described as “racially motivated violent extremism.” (AP Photo/Joshua Bessex)