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Schools chief to address South Phila. High tensions

Today, Superintendent Arlene Ackerman is to make her first public statements about ongoing racial tensions and safety concerns at South Philadelphia High School.

Today, Superintendent Arlene Ackerman is to make her first public statements about ongoing racial tensions and safety concerns at South Philadelphia High School.

She is expected to announce the creation of a diversity committee that will begin work immediately and make recommendations to be implemented next month.

Elected officials, community leaders, students, and parents accepted invitations to sit on the committee yesterday, said Evelyn Sample-Oates, a Philadelphia School District spokeswoman. The panel will "address racial and cultural awareness at every school in the district," but begin its work at South Philadelphia High.

Ackerman is expected to make the announcement at a 2 p.m. School Reform Commission meeting.

Sample-Oates said the district also recently hired a director of diversity training and education, who will work with students at every school on the issue. The job was created before last week's attacks on Asian students.

District officials met yesterday with Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey, Sample-Oates said. Ramsey said he would add officers to the area around the school. SEPTA will also add officers to the Broad Street Line just outside the school, she said.

About 50 students spent a second day yesterday boycotting classes at the school, where administrators held two closed-door meetings with parents and community members.

Principal LaGreta Brown told audiences that the school cares deeply about improving conditions with the help of parents and students.

The 50 students, all of them Asian, are boycotting classes this week, saying school and district officials have done little to protect them from attacks, primarily by black students.

Ten students were suspended for an incident last week in which seven Asian students required treatment for minor injuries. In some cases, witnesses said, students went from room to room looking for Asian students to target.

District officials initially said that before the attacks, violence at the high school was down over last year, but they have since said that statement was a mistake. Assaults were up 32 percent through the end of November, and overall violence was up by 5 percent.

No one has been arrested over the recent incidents, police and district officials later said. Police have said it is too soon to tell whether the incidents will be investigated as hate crimes.

Officials yesterday attempted to reassure parents that they were making changes to ensure the safety of students at the school.

Al Sorchetti, a former assistant principal at the school, said Brown did a good job explaining what the school was doing and the difficult task ahead.

Brown spoke of starting a home and school association, as well as a think tank, composed of students and members of the community, to recommend some remedies.

More school and city police officers have been assigned to the school and neighboring streets, district officials said.

Concerned that officials are not examining the problem deeply enough was Han Pan, 45, of Willow Grove, former deputy director of the governor's Asian American Advisory Committee.

The school seems to be continuing the measures begun after similar troubles a year and half ago, he said at the meeting.

"I asked them, 'Are you sure the school is safe now?' " he said afterward. "They just don't have the right approach."

Some of the Asian students have said that the violence against them is long-standing.

About 70 percent of the school's students are black, 18 percent are Asian, 6 percent are white, and 5 percent are Latino.

Also at the meeting were representatives of the Anti-Violence Partnership, the district's Office of Translation Services, and the district's Comprehensive High School Region.

The boycotting students did not attend the meetings. Helen Gym, a board member of Asian Americans United, said the group spent another day studying the events of last week and planning a response.

Gym said students - whose absences will be excused, district officials said, if their parents write notes - have made efforts to get homework packets from the school.

The students are planning to speak during the School Reform Commission meeting today.

Tomorrow, State Rep. Kenyatta Johnson (D., Phila.) is planning a discussion on youth violence at the school. The event is scheduled for 5 p.m.