Asian students praised for role in 2 Philadelphia high school settlements

December 21, 2010 § Leave a comment

Much credit for 2 landmark settlements to battle racial bias, Chairman Stephen Glassman told spectators at the state Human Relations Commission meeting on Monday, goes to people who weren’t in the room: Asian students at S. Philadelphia HS. It was the quiet power of their stories, born of violence and harassment, and their “extraordinary courage” and “guts” in coming forward that led officials to act decisively. Once the students described how they were abused at school, “we knew we had to do something,” Commissioner M. Joel Bolstein said. The meeting was during school hours, so no students were present. But, the commissioners, staff, community advocates, and city school officials praised two nearly identical settlements. The School District settled complaints filed with the commission and the federal government stemming from violence on 12.3.09, when 30 Asian students were attacked by other groups. The settlements mandate broad changes in how the district handles complaints of harassment and violence. “I’m glad we came to a settlement, but the work is just beginning,” Superintendent Arlene Ackerman said after addressing the commission. “We have a lot of work to do.” It would be easy to read the federal settlement and conclude that it was 30 pages of legalese. In fact, line after line speaks directly to specific cases of anti-Asian harassment – none more loudly than that involving a Vietnamese immigrant student, Hao Luu. His name is never mentioned, but provisions for translators and parental notifications help address what befell him in a case that began in accusation and ended with the district admitting its error. “I think my situation might have had some effect, a little,” Luu, now 18 and attending a different school, said. Luu said he was glad the school had improved under a new principal, Otis Hackney, but said his harsh experience altered his life and disrupted his education. The day before the violence erupted, Luu was followed after school by 10 to 15 students and beaten so badly that he vomited. The next morning, his grandmother went to the school and filed an incident report. Neither she nor Luu was contacted by school administrators. Instead of being treated as a victim, Luu was accused as a perpetrator. During the next 2 months, he was ordered transferred from the school, despite having won his case at a disciplinary hearing, and accused of being a gang member, despite his family’s denials. At one point, officials accused Luu of taking part in a fight in Philadelphia in 2008, when he was living in VA. A notice of his suspension hearing went to his family in English, a language they struggle to understand. District officials later acknowledged that Luu had no connection to street gangs, dropping the allegation they had used to ban him from the school. Despite winning the right to return, Luu decided to transfer to a private school. More recently he transferred to Furness High, a city school. Terms of the settlements require that cases involving those learning English – 19 % of S. Philadelphia HS students – be handled in a different way. To start, the Human Relations Commission settlement states, victims of racial harassment “ought not to be portrayed as perpetrators or gang members bearing equal guilt with their attackers.” (philly.com/inquirer)

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