Why does the Philadelphia School District need the feds to tell them what to do?
If it takes a village, the Philadelphia School District is the idiot.
Asian students’ claims of being abused at South Philly High School in December 2009 have merit, according to the Justice Department. The claims are that about 30 Asian students were attacked by a group of mostly black classmates on Dec. 3—and that the district completely botched its handling of the situation. The school district is now being advised by the Justice Department to “take steps to settle the matter.”
If you have children in the school district, or even if you don’t, you should be furious with this latest news. For starters, did the claims lack merit when it was just the students, parents, teachers, civil-rights advocates, politicians and various other concerned citizens making them? Now that there’s a report, something must be done!
And those steps needed to “settle the matter”—they are the same ones that should have been taken years ago at the urging of students, parents, teachers, civil-rights advocates, politicians and various other concerned citizens, correct? Now that there’s a report, something must be done! It wasn’t enough that an Asian civil-rights group complained over and over again!
The district could have done something a year ago when a string of violent incidents in the school was revealed.
PW published a cover story (“Aggregated Assault: Asian Students Seeks Refuge From School Violence”) in September 2009—four months before the attacks—detailing a crisis at South Philly High School.
Further, we wrote about a district-wide crisis:
The litany of abuses isn’t limited to South Philly High. Male and female Asian students—especially those new to the country, who speak little or fractured English—have been targeted over the past few years in schools from the Northeast to South Philly, in elementary and high schools. Students and activists say that Chinese, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Pakistani and other Asian youth have been singled out, assaulted in cafeterias, hallways, on city streets, schools buses and everywhere inbetween.
Still, for some reason, and despite years of violence in the school district and various reports on that violence, the focus is on this one day, Dec. 3. The media are partly to blame for that, with quotes like: “Today’s news fuels charges that what happened on December 3 was no isolated incident but instead symptomatic of more deeply-rooted racial injustice at the school.”
Of course it wasn’t an isolated incident.
And it certainly was not the beginning of school violence in Philadelphia. South Philly High had been on the state’s “persistently dangerous schools” list for three years in a row when that cover story was written. But even that was not the beginning. Far from it.
It wasn’t the beginning in December 2008, either, when Pa.’s State Auditor General Jack Wagner reported that the state Department of Education failed to ensure safety in schools. State officials failed to check the accuracy of school-violence statistics, the report said. Talk about leading by example. Maybe that’s why the school district allegedly got away with misreporting violent incidents, or not reporting them at all. In 2007, the nurse for Tilden Middle School in Southwest Philly sued the district, claiming he was retaliated against for complaining that the number of violent incidents reported didn’t match the number of students’ injuries he was treating.
A search through commissioned reports, studies and newspaper archives reveals hundreds of cases involving student violence. So it’s hard to say when the Philadelphia School District lost control of its rapidly deteriorating student relations. Maybe they never had it. But for years, they’ve been getting away with what they’re doing. Rather, not doing.
Here’s what can be fixed: The rules. First, make some. Then, follow them. If people—students, teachers or officials—break them, respond swiftly. Repeat.
Next, try treating every student equally. Novel idea. If this is done, people can stop talking about school violence as it pertains to race. No one is disputing that Asian students in Philly have been victims of racial injustice. But saying race is the cause assigns a whole lot of blame to the students and very little to the district—which is evident when Superintendent Arlene Ackerman says she is “certainly willing and anxious” to bring these issues to a close. That’s another way of saying: “Hey, I just work here.”
District officials acknowledged a year ago that they did not handle Asians’ complaints properly. So at this point, it’s safe to assume that the school district needs the feds to tell it what to do. This is not a bad thing, if it restores order within our schools. But government-mandated change means that the village idiot has got a lot of homework to do.
Community organizers say 30 or more Asian students were attacked Thursday at South Philadelphia High School. In September, PW's George Miller wrote this cover story about how Asian students are regularly targeted in Philadelphia schools.
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