After meeting with schools Superintendent Arlene Ackerman in Chinatown last night, the 50 Asian students who have been boycotting classes at South Philadelphia High agreed to return to school starting this morning.
The 25 or so students who continued to stay out of class in response to a Dec. 3 incident on campus in which dozens of them had been beaten said last night that they were "suspending" their boycott while awaiting action from school and district officials. (About half the boycotting students returned earlier this week.)
The students said they still have a list of concerns and demands, and wish to talk with officials about possible staffing changes at the school.
A statement released by the students last night indicated that the meeting was also attended by several Asian community leaders, about 30 of the students and following the meeting, school principal LaGreta Brown and other administrators.
"The struggle will go on until all the demands are met; we won't give up," the statement read. "We ask everyone to continue to pay attention to what's going on at SPHS. We hope that school can change their attitude for the benefits of all students.. . . We now believe in hope and change, like President Obama."
Earlier yesterday, Mayor Nutter praised Ackerman and the Philadelphia School District for their response to the beatings, while also crediting students who have returned to class.
"I'm proud of these students and their parents for coming back to school because they will help to make a more positive environment at South Philadelphia High School," said Nutter, adding that their commitment to improving relations could serve as a model for other city schools.
Nutter said city officials including his chief education officer, Lori Shorr; Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey; Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison; and the Commission on Human Relations worked closely with the schools and community to tackle the situation.
"Superintendent Ackerman and the School Reform Commission and the entire school district. . . took these matters very seriously, and quite honestly, jumped on them in the most immediate fashion," Nutter said.
Ackerman has been criticized by Asian leaders, who characterized her response to the beatings - which were overwhelmingly carried out by African American students - as slow and defensive. The superintendent first spoke about the incident six days after it happened, reading prepared remarks at a School Reform Commission meeting.
She first went to South Philadelphia High eight days after the attacks, the same day Brown, the principal, first spoke publicly about the beatings.
Helen Gym, a board member of Asian Americans United, later said she was disappointed by Nutter's remarks. She questioned how he could support a school that has seen a significant spike in violence.
District officials said that even before the attacks, both overall violence and assaults at the school were up over last school year. There were 38 assaults this school year through Nov. 30, a 32 percent increase over the same period last year.
Overall, there were 43 violent incidents this school year, a 5 percent increase over the same period last year.
Nutter said the situation was complicated. "This is not the filling of a pothole," the mayor said. "We're dealing with individuals, we're dealing with long-standing challenges, we're dealing . . . with issues of culture and race and neighborhood, and a bunch of national and international types of issues that will not be solved easily."
With work, racial tensions at the school can ease, the mayor said.
"It requires a lot of hard work, but it also requires a lot of faith on all sides to see that this is a serious effort and everyone has a role to play," he said, "and the role of students is to be in school."
Adult leaders have said they are planning to file a civil-rights complaint on behalf of the students with the U.S. Justice Department.