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Racial Tensions Between Black and Asian Students Boil in Philadelphia

Philadelphia Tribune, News Report, Robert Hightower Posted: Dec 09, 2009

Racial tensions have come to a boiling point at South Philadelphia High School, where some Asian students are not showing up for class following an attack by African-American pupils last week. Reportedly, the attacks took place last Wednesday and Thursday at the school on nearly 30 Asian students some requiring medical attention.

The school district met with Asian community groups on Friday to hash out a solution to quell the violence against the students. Many from the Asian community said they dissatisfied after the meeting.
Still, even after police presence was heightened at the school on Monday, many Asian students elected to boycott the school. Just how many were not present was not clear at Tribune press time.

Wei Chen, president of South Philadelphia High School Chinese American Student Association, said the Asian students felt their lives would be in danger in they were to attend the school.

It is our opinion that South Philadelphia High School is still not a safe place for us. Because we are Asian immigrants, we are targeted, said Chen. We have been working with the school a long time, but still the school has failed to provide a concrete plan to address our safety inside and outside the building.

Chen went on to say the Asians students have complained of security issues in the past.

We remain very upset with some staff members who are unresponsive to our concerns. We have been saying repeatedly that the security team has problems, but the school district still has not responded to our concerns. One staff person even slept through our meeting last Friday, he said. Because of that, we will not return to South Philadelphia High School this week. Instead, we are going to meet in our community to figure out some real solutions of our own. Dozens of students have already committed to meeting during school hours. We ask the police and school district to recognize what we're doing and respect our ability to travel between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. We invite concerned students from all races to contact us if you want to join.

At least 10 students, both African-Americans and Asians, have been suspended as a result of the brawls. The suspensions are being processed for recommendation for dismissal from the school.

As it stands now, an investigation by the Philadelphia Police Department is being conducted on the incidents. If more students are found to be involved, they will be suspended pending disciplinary action.

The School District of Philadelphia has asked the police to prosecute those involved to the fullest extent of the law.

Michael Silverman, the regional superintendent for Comprehensive High Schools who oversees 31 of the districts largest neighborhood schools, spoke to the press on Monday about the incidents. Silverman said strides are being made to increase the safety at the school for all students.

Weve really made sure that there is coordination between Philadelphia police and school district police, he said. Weve set up the safe corridors and made sure there are no holes in the safe corridors even down to the SEPTA stops. During the school day we have really beefed up our deployment plan in the building really making sure that anywhere kids go, they are going to see an adult and the adult is going to make sure they are safe.

Silverman added that efforts would continue to be made outside school.

We have to continue to do our outreach, he said. We have to make sure that we are talking to the community, all members of the community, to make sure everyone knows what we are doing.

The main goal is to get the students back to school, according to Silverman.

The reality is on Thursday there was fighting and Wednesday evening there was fighting, he said. What we are trying to really focus on right now is to bring everybody back to school, make the school safe (and) have kids learn to work with each other. You are not going to make it in this world if you cant work together.

Silverman said attempts have been made to come to an agreement.

We have reached out, he said. There have been phone calls all weekends.

State Rep. Kenyatta Johnson, whose district encompasses South Philadelphia High School, said he was on board to help to cure the situation.

I believe we can only do it if we work together, he said. So from a state representative standpoint, Ill be supportive of the process as well as individuals from the Asian community as well as the African-American community leaders to get these young people back in school as soon as possible to make sure all students are safe at South Philadelphia High School.

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