The city's School Reform Commission today formally settled federal and state probes into allegations of racial violence and harassment against Asian students at South Philadelphia High School.
South Philadelphia exploded last Dec. 3, when 30 Asians were attacked during a daylong series of assaults carried out by mostly African American students. Some students required hospital treatment.
The attacks triggered a boycott and formal complaints filed with the U.S. Justice Department and Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. Those complaints have been folded into one court order, which will be filed today.
In settling the claims, the district has agreed to a range of provisions, including strict guidelines on how racial harassment complaints must be handled at the school going forward, what translation services must be provided to immigrant students and their parents, and what training must be given to staff and students.
Both the Justice Department and the Human Relations Commission will be watching. The court order calls for monitoring by both agencies, and periodic reports on the district's progress.
Superintendent Arlene Ackerman said that the accord shows "just how vitally important it is that everyone be treated with dignity and respect." Still, there was "no finding that the school district violated any state or federal law," said Michael Davis, the district's top attorney.
But in remarks to the SRC, Helen Gym, a board member of Asian Americans United, upbraided district officials for their handling of the situation.
"As appalling as the December attacks on Asian immigrant youth were, it was the egregious conduct of school and district officials in the months leading up to that day and the months since that warranted federal intervention," Gym said. "We celebrate the lasting gains of these agreements; we hope that they are also welcomed with a measure of abiding humility and deep sorrow for the lack of action which required it." Stephen A. Glassman, state Human Relations Commission chairman, said that panel voted unanimously in a special session to endorse the agreement. The SRC vote was 4-0, with Commissioner Denise McGregor Armbrister absent.
Glassman said he appreciated the district's cooperation on the agreement, and noted that some of the changes it calls for have already been put in place at the school.
The court-ordered changes are a victory for Asian students and their advocates, who say complaints of harassment and physical violence were long ignored by district officials.
In 2008-09, there were 26 assaults on Asian students alone, according to the federal complaint, which was filed in January.
School administrators have said they took all allegations seriously and disciplined students when appropriate.
Gym and others have said that the school has improved significantly under new South Philadelphia High principal Otis Hackney, who also spoke at the meeting.
"We're working to create a much more welcoming, user-friendly and safe environment at South Philadelphia High School," Hackney said.