Justice officials point to S. Philly High settlement as warning

    Federal authorities say they hope schools across the country will be forewarned by the recent civil rights pact negotiated over violence at South Philadelphia high school.

    Attorneys with the Department of Justice said reports of student harassment based on race, religion and sexual orientation are increasing.

    Tom Perez, assistant attorney general for the civil rights division, said the caseload is increasing. .

    “We see a very wide swath of cases right now across the country and that is why we are using every tool in our legal arsenal to address this troubling phenomenon,” said.

    Perez said the department will use the South Philadelphia High School consent decree as a template.

    A year ago, more than two dozen Asian students were attacked in one day by African American students. The incidents touched off a boycott of the school by Asians who said school administrators had turned a blind eye to years of harassment.

    Perez said the school stood out because of the persistent pattern of abuse that Asian students suffered over a long period of time.

    Cecilia Chen is an attorney with the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which filed the civil rights complaint with the federal government.

    “These agreements are precedent setting,” she said. “It sends a strong message and clear message to schools and educators throughout the country in terms of what steps they need to take when they have incidents of harassment reported.”

    Chen said a similar consent decree was negotiated in 2004 with a school in Brooklyn, which resulted in making the school safer for Asian students.

    The long-term effects are unknown because the school was closed several years later.

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