PA Human Relations Commission, U.S. Justice Department settle race discrimination complaints against Philadelphia School District
Harrisburg – The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, in cooperation with the U.S. Dept. of Justice, today signed settlement agreements with the School District of Philadelphia resolving eight discrimination complaints alleging widespread harassment of Asian students at South Philadelphia High School.
Following reports of student-on-student violence and racial harassment at the high school in December 2009, the Human Relations Commission investigated complaints filed over several months by Asian Americans United, Boat People SOS, Victim Witness Services of South Philadelphia, three students on behalf of themselves and their peers, and two individual students.
All eight complaints alleged racial harassment of Asian students. Advocacy groups also alleged that the school district, as a public accommodation, offered discriminatory terms and conditions of service based on the students' race.
Today's settlements resolve the state complaints and the Justice Department's concurrent investigation.
"Harassment and bullying are huge roadblocks to an education for immigrants and other minority children," said Stephen Glassman, PHRC chairman. "Today we have leapt a giant hurdle by getting groups with major differences to agree to work together to resolve these problems and protect our children.
"All of the parties involved should be commended for taking this problem seriously, especially the students who had the courage to come forward. We simply cannot tolerate harassment based on the color of a person's skin or where they were born. This is not simply a matter of young people behaving badly. Everyone needs to understand that this kind of behavior is against the law."
The settlements require South Philadelphia High School to submit an anti-harassment action plan, and continue implementing policies and procedures to prevent harassment based on race, color and/or national origin. The settlements hold the district responsible for implementation and oversight.
Additional settlement terms require the school and/or district to:
- Adopt and distribute an anti-harassment policy, translated into several languages spoken among students at the school;
- Train staff annually on multi-cultural awareness and diversity;
- Conduct biannual student training on multi-cultural awareness and diversity;
- Promptly investigate all harassment allegations;
- When harassment allegations arise, notify victims and their parents, and accused students and their parents promptly and in appropriate languages;
- Adopt and implement security and emergency plans and school police training;
- Translate all policies, procedures, notifications and conferences into designated languages;
- Make counseling and translation services available;
- Hire a consultant to recommend further anti-harassment and security policies and procedures; and
- Submit to specific reporting, record-keeping requirements and other oversight by the Pa. Human Relations Commission and Justice Department.
The complete settlement agreement will be available online Dec. 16 at www.phrc.state.pa.us.
Statement From Superintendent Dr. Arlene Ackerman
I am pleased to announce that today the School District of Philadelphia signed a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission to resolve complaints from last year's incidents at South Philadelphia High School.
We recognize the lessons learned and the tremendous steps that the students, teachers, principal and staff have taken over the past year.
The District and the school have already implemented several provisions of the agreement, including the adoption of an anti-harassment policy, establishment of investigation and complaint procedures and training of South Philadelphia High School staff and students regarding anti-harassment policies.
Our students deserve a harassment-free learning environment and we strive every day to provide this for them. We hope that the incidents of December 3, 2009 will serve as a reminder of just how vitally important it is that everyone be treated with dignity and respect.
We thank the Department of Justice and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission for recognizing the progress that has already been made at South Philadelphia and for working together with us to create a settlement agreement with the best interests of the students at its core.
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