Fights and rumors of slights triggered the Dec. 3 racial violence at South Philadelphia High, a retired federal judge's report released today concluded.
On Dec. 2, there was an in-school confrontation between African American and Asian students, and an after school incident outside the building.
Afterward, there were rumors that a popular, disabled African American student was jumped by a group of Asian students. Judge James T. Giles said he was not able to determine whether the African American student was in fact a victim or an attacker, but that rumor and others were enough to fuel tensions that spilled over the next day.
On Dec. 3, a number of Asian students were attacked by African American students and a Cambodian student in multiple episodes during the school day and afterward. A number of students required hospital treatment, and one victim's nose was broken.
The students attacked on Dec. 3 had no direct connection to the violence the day before, Giles said. Most were recent immigrants.
"We believe that in some instances, they were randomly attacked or attacked because someone in their group was identified or misidentified as being connected to the earlier events," Giles wrote.
The judge concluded that race or ethnicity "were contributing factors" in all the Dec. 3 attacks on the Asian students, but he was unable to conclude that they were attacked because they were immigrants.
Giles' report did not assign blame to school officials, but it did make recommendations for change, including banning hoodies at school, providing students with an anonymous tipline to report violence, and placing sufficient cameras at South Philadelphia High School. Some of the suggested changes, such as putting more cameras in place, have already been made.
Although students and community members say there has long been violence against immigrant students, Giles was directed to only investigate the incidents of Dec. 2 and 3, he said. He termed his work "a general overview and not a specific fact-finding undertaking as to individual student culpability."
Giles interviewed administrators, some teachers, some witnesses and only those victims who agreed to participate, he said. The alleged perpetrators - 22 students have been suspended, and some are in the expulsion pipeline - were not interviewed because they may face criminal charges, Giles said.
Both Giles and Superintendent Arlene Ackerman said that it was important to focus on the future, not the past.
"It would take us another 10 years to find out all the intricacies of what happened," Ackerman said at a news conference. "Let's move forward."