The lawsuit says Lancaster failed to offer equal access to education to students with refugee status.
The ACLU filed the lawsuit on Tuesday on behalf of seven student refugees between the ages of 17 and 21. It alleges that Lancaster school officials have refused to enroll students altogether or have diverted them to Phoenix Academy, where they get boot camp-style discipline and a fraction of the English language instruction they would at the local high school.
The scenario has prompted a handful of student refugees to drop out in recent months.
Lancaster’s superintendent Damaris Rao knew the lawsuit was coming.
“What we’re trying to do, what Phoenix does really well is that it gives him an opportunity to accelerate,” said Rao. “So if a child comes to this country, a child who is 15-16 with no credits, it’s practically impossible for them to graduate. And that’s our goal.”
Rao defended sending students to the Phoenix school.
“The intention of the Phoenix program” Rao said, “is to accelerate kids’ credits so that they can get back — and we have tons of kids who go back to [the public high school] McCaskey — and graduate on time. So, I think they’re doing a really good job and it’s a shame that it’s come to this.”
Lancaster is home to about 60,000 residents and resettles at least 500 refugees annually, a high number for a community that size.
The Utica City School District in New York and several other districts settled similar lawsuits earlier this year.