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Ackerman apologizes, says all students hurt in S. Philly

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Superintendent Arlene Ackerman said in opening remarks at Wednesday’s School Reform Commission meeting that the recent incidents at South Philadelphia High School hurt all students and staff, not just the Asian students who were beaten by some of their schoolmates.

"This incident, while painful to those young people who were physically injured, left emotional scars on all the students and staff at South Philadelphia High School. For this I am saddened and I deeply apologize," she said.

Ackerman said some students had told her they felt unfairly stereotyped by media coverage of the incident, which she termed "sensationalized." She said the School District "has now been asked to singlehandedly solve the issue of violence and racial discord" that is deeply rooted in history, and go far beyond the schools

Ackerman characterized the violence that triggered the weeklong boycott of classes by a group of Asian students as being perpetrated by "a small group of students of multi-ethnic origins." She said South Philadelphia students told her that they believed the coverage "maligned some races and mischaracterized others," and that their stories had been told "unfairly."

She repeated her statement from last week that there were two incidents of "random violence," saying that the Asian students were "caught in a flurry of revengeful acts." Ackerman had said earlier that the violence against the Asian students came after some Asian students had attacked a Black special education student the day before.

In her seven-minute remarks, Ackerman also said that she was impressed with the students with whom she met Tuesday night in Chinatown not only for how they discussed the issues, but for what they said "about the behavior of adults before and after the incident." The meeting included the boycotting Asian students and also, at Ackerman’s insistence, a group of most African American "student ambassadors" from the school

The Asian students have consistently blamed not other students, but adults in the school for not allowing the violence to happen.

Ackerman said that she was at the school Wednesday morning when the students returned.

Ackerman said the District is taking both short-term and long-term steps to deal with the issues — reiterating that while she wants students to be in a safe and nurturing environment that she remains as committed as ever to what she termed a "no tolerance" policy for students who commit serious offenses.

A 50-person task force on racial and ethnic issues started meeting this week, Ackerman said, and is reviewing the District’s Policy 102 on multiculturalism that was adopted by the old Board of Education more than a decade ago.

She concluded that it is time to "let the healing begin."

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