Philadelphia Superintendent Arlene Ackerman late today said the district is in process of hiring an outside investigator to examine what happened last week at South Philadelphia High School.

She said they hope to have someone hired and beginning their work by next week.

Ackerman announced the development during a lengthy meeting of the School Reform Commission which heard from many Asian students who say they have been the target of racial violence.

Some 50 students, who have boycotted classes this week to study their response to the violence, walked en masse to the meeting.

Speaking about the racial tensions and violence at South Philadelphia High for the first time, Ackerman decried last week's "senseless acts of violence" at the school and announced a task force to address racism across the district.

Ackerman said that last week's incidents - where about 30 Asian students were beaten, primarily by groups of African American students, but also by students of other races - were retaliation for an "unwarranted off-campus attack" of a disabled African American student.

"We know that what happened at South Philly last week is only a symptom of a more serious problem, which has its roots in racism - not only in our schools, but in the larger community," Ackerman said.

To address the problem, the district has assembled a 50-member "Task Force For Racial And Cultural Harmony" that will begin work immediately. The group, made up of students, teachers, parents, elected officials, district officials and community members, will be charged with "conducting a root-cause analysis" of the issue and recommend strategies for adoption by the district.

The task force will begin its work at South Philadelphia High, but will also look at schools around the district, Ackerman said.

Extra city and school police have been added to the school, Ackerman said, and a Department of Justice program to address racial issues will be put in place there, as well.

Hundreds of people packed the School Reform Commission meeting at which the superintendent made her remarks.

Some, including the roughly 50 Asian students who are staying out of school this week to protest the violence at South Philadelphia High, waved signs.

"Grown-Ups Let Us Down!" they read. ""It's Not a Question of Who Beat Whom, but Who Let it Happen."

More than a dozen speakers on the South Philadelphia issue are scheduled to address the commission.

Contact staff writer Kristen Graham at 215-854-5146 or