Asian Group Seeks Federal Help

Dafney Tales, Philadelphia Daily News, January 20, 2010

An Asian civil-rights group filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice yesterday alleging that the school district acted with “deliberate indifference” to numerous complaints of harassment made by Asian students at South Philadelphia High.

The complaint, filed by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, alleged that regular harassment preceded a series of attacks on 30 Asian students at the school on Dec. 3 and have continued even after the district instituted reforms in response to the incident.

Cecilia Chen, a staff attorney with the AALDEF representing eight of the victims, said that the events that day could have been avoided if school and district staff had responded effectively to previous pleas for help.

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The complaint also states that the district and school failed to provide parents of bilingual students with pertinent information. In addition, the organization accused administrators of intimidation, saying that they ordered a student not to report discrimination and prevented teachers “from speaking out about the school’s failure to address the harassment.”

The complaint asks the Justice Department to investigate the incident in the hopes that the department will recommend reforms on the school.

Chen noted that violence against immigrant students dates back more than a year. In 2008, a series of meetings between school-district officials, students and community groups followed a spate of violence against Asian students at the school, at Broad Street and Snyder Avenue. Chen said that promises made by the district to address the issue were never realized.

Throughout the day on Dec. 3, groups of Asian immigrant students were assaulted in and around the school by African-American students. In all, 13 students–six Chinese, seven Vietnamese–were treated for minor injuries. After the incident, 60 students staged an eight-day boycott of the school to protest what they said was the school’s lackluster response to their harassment.

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