In remarks before the School Reform Commission this afternoon, Superintendent Arlene Ackerman defended the district's actions in the wake of beatings at South Philadelphia High School but "deeply apologized" for the emotional harm done to students and staff at the school.
Ackerman characterized the Dec. 3 attacks as happening to "innocent Asian students who were caught in a flurry of revengeful acts."
Now, she said, "the district has now been asked to singlehandedly solve the problems of violence and racial discord."
She pointed to steps the district has taken - more security cameras, police officers, the addition of a veteran administrator to the school, plus diversity training for students and staff and a federal program to help calm racial tensions.
An outside investigator has already begun a probe of the incident, Ackerman said, and she expects a report in mid-January.
Ackerman thanked the mayor and the Philadelphia Human Relations Commission for their support but said recent events made this "a tough week for many people in the district, especially for many in the South Philadelpia High School family."
She again lashed out at media coverage of the event, saying she and students thought it represented "an unfair telling of their story" and said stories mischaracterized some racial groups.
Still, Ackerman said, meetings held this week with South Philadelphia students - including the 50 who conducted an eight-day boycott of the school - were productive.
Last night's meeting with boycotting students, their parents and advocates was a point of contention with the superintendent for some time. Initially, she refused to meet with the students until they returned to school, and insisted they meet at South Philadelphia High and without their advocates. Ultimately, she met on their terms.
Students, Ackerman said, give her hope.
"They are extremely resilient, and they are forever optimistic," Ackerman said of South Philadelphia pupils. "I put my money and I put my faith in them every time. It is why I get up every day and come to work, sometimes in the face of heavy criticism."
Ackerman, who said she went to the high school this morning, passed along a message she said students gave her: "Adults, get out of the way and let the healing begin."