Asian students protest violence at South Philly High

SOUTH PHILADELPHIA - December 7, 2009

A Chinatown neighborhood official says at least 30 students of Asian descent refused to go to class. The students say they fear for their safety.

More than two dozen Asian-American students say they were the target of an attack at school last week. The victims say it happened when they went to the lunchroom.

"The school is not safe. All we want is a safe school," said student Wei Chen.

Some students had gotten wind of possible problems beforehand.

"They formally asked a teacher to let them not go to the lunchroom, and they were told they had to go to the lunchroom," said Helen Gym of Asian-Americans United. "Afterwards, they were attacked."

One student described the fights she saw last week.

"Several students jumping an Asian kid. It was really horrible, because he was on the floor in the fetal position, they were still kicking him and everything," said Amina Delazquez. "After that, these Asian kids jumped this one black kid."

A teacher at the school explained there is tension between Asian-American and African-American students, and he accuses the school district of ignoring it.

"We've had district officials come down last year, and they're blowing hot air. We told them 'This is ridiculous, this is going on incessantly, something should be done,' so they gave us a phone number to call," said Dean Coder. "It's just another layer in the bureaucracy."

The district said it has been trying to ease tensions in the community. But, given that students don't feel safe and won't come to class, school officials say they will do more.

"Let's face it. It's hard to come to school if you don't feel safe," said Michael Silverman of the Philadelphia School District. "We want to do the things to let the kids know what we're doing in our school, what we're doing in our community, and how we're honestly trying to bring all of the segments of the South Philadelphia community to the table so we can work together."

Two of the victims, who did not want to be identified, talked about the attack through a translator. The first student told Action News, "Each of us were attacked by a group of 4 or 5 students. We did not see who the attackers were because we were trying to protect ourselves."

The other victim said, "We are very afraid and we feel helpless and we don't know what to do."

District officials say 10 students have been suspended in connection with the attacks, but argue these types of incidents are a rare occurrence.

South Philly High is 18 percent Asian and has been designated by the state as "persistently dangerous" the last three years.

However, one school official claims assaults are down by 50-percent from last year.

Police are investigating to see if any hate crimes have been committed at the school.

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