U.S.: S. Philly High didn't protect Asian students from harassment

Posted: September 02, 2010

At the threshold of a new school year at South Philadelphia High, Asian community leaders remain hopeful, but skeptical, about what the year will bring, a community organizer said yesterday.

Meanwhile, they applauded a recent finding by the U.S. Department of Justice validating accusations that Asian students had been victimized at the school last year.

"By finding merit in the complaint, the Justice Department reinforces what students and families have been saying for years," Helen Gym, of Asian Americans United, said at a news conference held yesterday to comment on the findings, which have not been released publicly.

"Harassment against Asian students is a severe problem at South Philadelphia High School," Gym said. "It is a problem the school district has failed to address."

Gym urged district officials to avoid "broad proclamations" and to establish a "culture of trust" by engaging in meaningful dialogue with the community on issues of anti-Asian harassment, stereotyping and discipline.

The district confirmed receiving a letter from the Department of Justice and is seeking to resolve this matter amicably, said a district spokesman.

The letter's conclusion, that the school failed to protect Asian students from harassment, now compels the district to forge an agreement with the DOJ on ways to reform, which could possibly be supervised by a judge.

Gym praised the school's newest principal, Otis Hackney, for working with Asian community groups to improve conditions.

Hackney said that one of the school's newest initiatives is an anti-harassment policy that will show students and staff how to report violent behavior.

He added that assistant principal Cecelia Merritt will focus on issues of harassment and bullying. District officials plan to appoint a second assistant principal, this one of Asian descent, said a district spokesman.

During an orientation at the school Tuesday, Superintendent Arlene Ackerman announced new programs that she hopes will change the culture at the school, where racial violence against about 30 Asian students erupted in December.

Among the programs are a resource center for new immigrants, an after-school Asian arts program and Chinese classes.

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