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South Philly High: The District’s alternate reality

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

A few weeks back I wrote a post about a 16-year-old boy who enrolled at South Philadelphia High School post-December 3 and who was assaulted last month in a bathroom stall.

Monday’s Inquirer story gives an update on Lin De Liu’s condition:

The incident lasted only seconds, but for Liu, a 16-year-old immigrant from China, the consequences have been profound.

His vision frequently turns blurry, to where he can’t count fingers held in front of his face. He forgets conversations that occurred moments earlier, and sometimes struggles to identify everyday objects, like the chicken on his dinner plate. He gets sudden nose bleeds. . .

Liu was examined at Chinatown Medical Services on March 25, where the doctor wrote he had blurred vision and should be seen at a hospital. The next day, Liu underwent a CT scan of the head. A week later, a sudden loss of vision sent him to the emergency room for a second CT scan. More tests are pending.

Liu worries that his condition is permanent – and that he could be hurt even worse at school.

"I have this great fear that someone will attack me again," he said.

The family has amassed thousands of dollars in medical bills but that pales in comparison to the family’s stress.

"I’m so upset," Liu’s mother, Hui Qin Chen, said through a translator as she wiped tears from her eyes. "I don’t know what to do."

The medical records and at least one eyewitness statement make clear what happened: a kid kicked in a bathroom stall door that smacked Lin De’s head against the wall.

But for the School District an entirely different story has cropped up a month after the attack – and delivered only to the media. No one from the School District, for the record, has formally contacted the family to explain what they found, clarify discrepancies, or even reach out and help the family deal with their son’s injuries.

According to the District:

  1. The incident was apparently a "careless" accident, not an assault. Funny though that kicking in doors isn’t exactly a passive act, and an eyewitness’ account that the boys were cracking up at Lin De’s pain doesn’t exactly indicate insouciance. The District bases this assessment on apparently no investigation at all. Dong Chen, the eyewitness, never received a follow-up interview with the District. Clearly no one has contacted the family beyond the first visit with the school. So once again, a serious incident remains uninvestigated – to the District’s benefit.
  2. Lin De’s mother was turned away from the school multiple times to try and speak to school officials, but the District claims it has no proof that she was actually there. Their proof? No footage shows her inside the building at one specific entrance. Oh and plus no one fessed up to turning her away. They recommend via the Inquirer that she specifically identify the person who turned her away – even though no one’s reached out to her to ask.
  3. In an equally bizarre turn of events, the school informed Lin De’s family that the student who had committed the assault had been suspended and transferred, but the District denied that and said the family and a community advocate had “misunderstood.” That student had only voluntarily transferred out of the system.
  4. And finally, although community advocates have counted a number of incidents of harassment at the school, the School District can only come up with one – the one in the paper.

Since December 3, the District has created an alternate universe of reality in which real pain and suffering of Asian immigrant youth at the school doesn’t exist, conversations are misunderstood, and people like Lin De’s mom just make stuff up. It happens through official inquiries like the $100,000 District investigation, and it continues today despite the appalling stress and suffering of Lin De’s family. It’s an alternate reality in which the District is accountable for nothing, and an alternate reality where basic human compassion is lacking. It’s also an alternate reality where racial violence has continued to exist.

A few weeks ago a District official contacted me and suggested that I keep the District “in the loop” before publishing incidents like Lin De’s on the Notebook’s website. If Lin De’s injuries are so callously disregarded, what will it take for the District to recognize there’s a problem?

At this point, I don’t even want to contemplate the answer.