SRC hears of more ethnic intimidation

Posted: December 17, 2009

It's not only South Philadelphia High where immigrant students face problems, parents and an activist told the School Reform Commission yesterday.

Even younger students in the neighborhood are routinely the victims of racism and bullying because they don't speak English, the parents said. Parents who don't speak English are ignored, and the educational services for their children are inadequate, they added.

Angelica Viceriana, whose children attend Jackson Elementary in South Philadelphia, said she had been threatened by a district staffer when she signed up to speak to the commissioners.

A staffer from the South Regional superintendent's office, speaking to her in Spanish, offered a deal, she said.

"They told me to call other parents and to tell them not to come to the SRC meeting, and they said that if I did so, they would pay more attention to my child's concerns," Viceriana said.

Superintendent Arlene Ackerman said she would investigate, but explained that she had directed staff to try to solve parents' issues so they didn't need to appear before the commission.

But if Viceriana's account is true, "of course that's not appropriate."

Last year, the district promised in writing to bolster services for non-English-speaking students. Many of those promises have been broken, the parents said.

Zac Steele, an organizer with Juntos, a South Philadelphia group, urged the commission to make sure parents aren't intimidated. There's real fear among immigrant children and parents, he said, and the problems at South Philadelphia High are linked to other schools in the neighborhood.

Later, Gregory Brinkley, president of the National Action Network, reiterated his call for an outside investigation of the alleged beating of a Frankford High student by two school truant officers.

Ackerman said that one had been under way for several weeks, and promised "appropriate action."

The meeting took a dramatic turn when the mother of a Northeast High student began shouting at Ackerman.

Stephanie Cruel said her daughter could not attend school because she objected to the school's uniform policy. She said a medical condition prevents her daughter from wearing required khaki pants.

Officials said she had refused alternatives.

"I thought children came first!" Cruel shouted. "You think you can shut me up. You can't shut me up. I'm a full-grown woman!"

Security officers surrounded her, but Cruel ultimately left, threatening a lawsuit.

In an interview, Ackerman also addressed rumors that she planned to leave the district in the new year.

"I'm staying here," she said. "I've got lots of work to do. I love Philadelphia, and I like it here, even on days like today and weeks like this week."

Contact staff writer Kristen Graham at 215-854-5146 or kgraham@phillynews.com.

Parents tell district leaders of widespread problems for those struggling with English. B5.

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