Student advocates on Thursday hailed the landmark agreement between the School District of Philadelphia and state and federal authorities on racial harassment and violence at South Philadelphia High, but said its safeguards must extend to students citywide.
A group of parents of Middle Eastern public school students - mostly Iraqi refugees settled in Northeast Philadelphia - met this week with Marwan Kreidie, director of the Philadelphia Arab American Development Corp., to say their children are targeted at school and no one seems willing to help them.
"They claim that principals don't listen to them, don't take them seriously," Kreidie said. "They always blame the Arabs."
Kreidie and others from the immigrant advocacy community gathered at a news conference in Center City Thursday to underscore the need for better handling of racial-harassment claims, stronger translation services, and training for staff in district schools - things spelled out in the South Philadelphia consent decree signed this week.
The settlement ended investigations by the U.S. Justice Department and Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission into how the district handled bias and violence against Asian students at South Philadelphia High, where on Dec. 3, 2009, a group of 30 immigrant students was beaten in a daylong series of attacks by groups of mostly African American students.
But the legal provisions, which include strict federal and state monitoring, reports, and outside oversight, apply only to South Philadelphia High.
Stephen A. Glassman, chair of the state Human Relations Commission, said he was confident the district could spread the South Philadelphia model throughout the city.
"I do have faith that this is going to be systemwide," Glassman said in an interview, adding that "so much depends on the leadership of the principals."
District officials have told him they had already distributed the guidelines to all schools and were making plans for training, Glassman said.
He vowed that the commission would keep its eye on the issue.
"We really are there to be a supportive partner, but we will hold them accountable, and we will do what's necessary to make sure that every student gets an equal education in a safe and secure environment," he said.
Djung Tran, head of outreach for the Asian-Pacific Bar Association of Philadelphia, said other organizations would be watching as well.
"Having a consent decree in order is one thing," Tran said at the news conference. "Implementation is the true test. I look forward to monitoring the issue."
Tran and Stan Straughter, chair of the Mayor's Commission on African and Caribbean Immigrant Affairs, noted that African students are often victims of harassment and violence.
"That very seldom gets reported by the victims," Straughter said in an interview after the news conference. "At least this gives other children the courage to stand up."
The Rev. Myra Maxwell, director of victim services for the Anti-Violence Partnership of Philadelphia and pastor of Restoration Worship Center in South Philadelphia, commended the students who helped force the issue for South Philadelphia High.
"As a person of color, I remember the many stories of civil rights in the '50s and '60s," Maxwell said. "Today, we are seeing the courage of our young people demonstrated again, only this time in 2010, and through yet another minority - the Asian immigrant population."