Refugee Students File Lawsuit, School Not Good Enough

Refugee Students 1

Refugees who come to the United States with “little or no education” were put in a special “acceleration program” for students that need extra help – now they’re suing, claiming they’re not getting a quality education.

The six refugee students range in age from 17 to 21, and come from Somalia, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Burma.    They are suing the Lancaster, Pennsylvania school district.  

Khadidja Issa, of Sudan, is upset that school officials told her she was “too old for high school,” and should get a job.   She lived in a refugee camp from the age of 5 to 17, and wants an education – in the main high school.

The American Civil Liberties Union is representing the students, claiming they are being denied access to a quality education, because they were enrolled in an alternative high school for underachieving students – Phoenix Academy – instead McCaskey High School, touted for its superior academic program.

The refugees have already endured too much hardship in their past – now being sent to Phoenix is just unacceptable.

A statement from the lawsuit reads: “The Plaintiffs are refugees who have fled war, violence, and persecution from their native countries. Having finally escaped their turbulent environment to resettle in America, these young immigrants yearn to learn English and get an education so they can make a life for themselves.”

“Our clients have already experienced much trauma and loss before arriving in this country,” Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said in a statement. “Rather than helping them make the difficult adjustment by providing educational resources required by law, the school district has denied them an education completely or forced them into an alternative school, where they are often bullied and don’t learn.”

Fox News reports that Phoenix Academy is a high school for “underachieving” or “under-credited” students.  Their special “acceleration program” gives the students (refugee and non-refugees) an opportunity to earn credits toward a high school diploma by the age of 21, according to Superintendent Damaris Rau.

“The students receive various services including remedial services, English classes for Second Language Learners, after school programs, job and computer skills as well as mentoring services,” Rau said.

“The District believes the lawsuit is without merit,” Rau said in a statement. “We are confident we are doing an excellent job supporting our refugee students who often come to school with little or no education.”

Security is stricter at Phoenix than at regular high schools – and the refugees don’t like it.    Phoenix students must go through pat-downs and are banned from bringing personal belongings like watches and jewelry to school.

Issa said the procedure is invasive.   “I have been to school before and I’ve never seen a place where they pat you down in order to enter school, and they do it every day,” she said.

Attorneys for the district, led by Sharon O’Donnell, responded to the allegations by saying: “Phoenix Academy is not the prison that some people would make it out to be. They’re actually getting more focused instruction away from the distractions of the larger McCaskey High School.”

She added: “If they don’t like the security measures [at Phoenix Academy] then they definitely won’t like them at McCaskey, where they have two guards with Tasers and yes, sometimes they have to use them.”

Speaking through an interpreter, Qassim Hassan, a Somali refugee whose father was killed by militiamen in that country, said, of the Phoenix Academy, “I did not find the school that I deserved.”


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