Monday, January 25, 2010

Still opposed to vouchers? American public schools increasingly resemble survival-of-the-fittest prison yards

Racial bullying roils a Philadelphia high school
(The Associated Press) -- PATRICK WALTERS

PHILADELPHIA - The blocks surrounding South Philadelphia High School are a melting pot of pizzerias fronted by Italian flags, African hair-braiding salons and a growing number of Chinese, Vietnamese and Indonesian restaurants.

Inside is a cauldron of cultural discontent that erupted in violence last month , off-campus and lunchroom attacks on about 50 Asian students, injuring 30, primarily at the hands of blacks. The Asian students, who boycotted classes for more than a week afterward, say they've endured relentless bullying by black students while school officials turned a blind eye to their complaints.

"We have suffered a lot to get to America and we didn't come here to fight," Wei Chen, president of the Chinese American Student Association, told the school board in one of several hearings on the violence. "We just want a safe environment to learn and make more friends. That's my dream."

Philadelphia school officials suspended 10 students, increased police patrols and installed dozens of new security cameras to watch the halls, where 70 percent of the students are black and 18 percent Asian. The Vietnamese embassy complained to the U.S. State Department about the attacks and numerous groups are investigating, including the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.

The New York-based Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund joined the fray this week with a civil rights complaint to the U.S. Justice Department.

The Philadelphia school district acted with "deliberate indifference" toward the harassment and failed to prevent the Dec. 3 attacks, according to the complaint. It says Asian students' pleas for help and protection were ignored by school employees.

Asian students say black students routinely pelt them with food, beat, punch and kick them in school hallways and bathrooms, and hurl racial epithets like "Hey, Chinese!" and "Yo, Dragon Ball!"

Community advocates repeatedly told school and district administrators of that bullying, according to the legal defense fund's complaint, which was based on accounts and statements by unidentified students and teachers.

Black students say they all are unfairly being blamed for the actions of a few.

"They just want to look at everybody" for blame, said Ali Bailey, 15, a sophomore. "That's not cool."

Principal LaGreta Brown, the school's fourth principal in five years, was cited for a discriminatory attitude, particularly for referring to the advocacy groups' efforts as "the Asian agenda."...

Superintendent Arlene Ackerman and other school officials say the assaults followed an attack on a disabled black student by two Asian students the day before. But students say the violence goes back even further...

Ackerman apologized to the students but was criticized for bringing a busload of black "student ambassadors" to one hearing , students who were not involved in the strife. She also stirred tensions when she complained that the cultural crisis was "taking up a lot of my time."...MORE...LINK

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