Lancaster school district appealing student refugee transfer decision

    In this file photo

    In this file photo

    A federal judge ruled a few days ago that the School District of Lancaster must transfer any refugees from a magnet school to the mainstream high school — if that’s what the students want.

    Now, the district has decided to fight the order.

    The district was sued in mid-July for sending students over the age of 16 with limited English proficiency to Phoenix Academy, meant for students at risk for dropping or aging out, instead of McCaskey High School’s yearlong International School program, designed specifically for students who need the most help learning English.

    It was the third such federal lawsuit initiated in the past year or so over refugee education access — and the first to go to trial, according to the ACLU of Pennsylvania, part of the legal team representing six students named in the case.

    Court documents filed Wednesday were merely a notice that an appeal is coming. A more detailed filing is expected in the coming weeks.

    In the meantime, refugees still can opt to transfer from Phoenix to McCaskey, as ordered. They and their families have until Sept. 9 to choose. The district is still working on translating notices informing them of the opportunity, according to spokeswoman Kelly Burkholder.

    Lancaster is contesting “this order for the purpose of preventing trial judges from substituting their judgement for that of the school board when placing children in educational settings,” Burkholder wrote in an email.

    U.S. District Judge Edward Smith noted in his ruling that school officials have discretion over placement, but not over whether to follow the law. And, he wrote, the duty of the courts is to “apply clear law to clear facts.”

    Smith found the district violated the Equal Education Opportunity Act by diverting students to Phoenix and by illegally delaying or denying enrollment.

    In Pennsylvania, students must be enrolled within five days of registering to attend school. They also are entitled to a free public education in Pennsylvania.

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