Most feeling safer at S. Phila. High

Posted: April 28, 2011

Thanks to changes like on-site cameras, increased security guards and a new principal, most students at South Philadelphia High report that they feel safer at school than they did last school year, a recent "climate report" found.

Still, the report also concluded that Asian students feel less safe than their counterparts, and that there is work to be done with the problem of bias in the high school.

"Although they feel safer, they don't feel united as a student body, that they are one," said Pedro Noguero, the New York University professor who presented the report to the School Reform Commission yesterday.

And, the report concluded, there may be too many reforms under way at the school, causing a lack of coordination and clarity. The report focused on the first three months of this school year.

The focus on South Philadelphia High stems from a December 2009 incident in which groups of mostly black students assaulted 30 Asian classmates, sending seven to hospitals.

The attacks prompted a student boycott. Seven months later, a federal investigation found that the school had been "deliberately indifferent" to ongoing harassment of Asian students.

While acknowledging no wrongdoing, the school district then agreed to state and federal oversight as it addressed the problems of racial bias at the school.

Principal Otis Hackney took the helm at the high school in July. Addressing the SRC, he noted that the climate report was a snapshot taken at the beginning of the school year and that improvements had been made since then.

"It's been a long, laborious process to get us where we are right now," he said, acknowledging that the school still has a long way to go.

Across the board, the district is reporting an 11 percent decrease in the number of violent incidents this year.

At South Philly High, not including dress-code infractions, there was a 37 percent increase in overall infractions reported from fall 2009 to fall 2010, the report found, and a 50 percent decrease in the total incidents against people this year versus last.

Despite the changesl, 34.7 percent of students polled said that no changes had made them feel safer. And 43 percent of immigrant male respondents reported feeling unsafe.

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