PA refugees & ACLU suing Lancaster school district on wrong side of “readiness”

Students in PA 1030There is a group of high school aged refugees in the State of Pennsylvania (PA), along with officials from the PA branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), that are suing the Lancaster school district for the school services they are receiving which they claim are not good enough. (H/T JacksNewswatch)

Yes, it’s absolutely true that many U.S. and Canadian schools need improving. But, remember, these refugee students and their families had to flee for their lives or, at the very least, flee from religious persecution and poverty.

For example, one girl was in a refugee camp from the age of 5 to age 17. Meaning, she lacks a minimum of eight years of the types of English language, thinking and computational skills Americans take for granted.

And, now they are complaining? Talk about an entitlement attitude!

Specifically, the ACLU justification for the suit is as follows:

“The refugees hoped to enter McCaskey High School, known for its superior academic program, but instead were sent to Phoenix Academy, an alternative high school for ‘underachieving’ students in the district. “

The refugees hoped to enter a high school known for its superior academic program? Think about that for a moment.

Students who grew up in the U.S. spend up to 8 years in elementary and middle school and at least one year in kindergarten. Yet, refugees coming to the U.S., most who know little or no English on arrival or have only the most basic reading and computational skills — have the expectation that they “should” expect to jump right in with those students?

How naive is that? Do the officials at the sponsoring union not have any understanding of the concepts of learning readiness and prerequisite knowledge?

I mean, if they are parents, or relatives of children, surely they know how children don’t acquire advanced skills without learning all the smaller prerequisite skills first. I mean, toddlers don’t usually learn to talk by speaking immediately in full sentences. Rather, they learn word by word.

It is the same for reading — fluency comes first (which includes vocabulary development) with comprehension coming much later. The reason comprehension comes later is that fluency reading skills must be 100% automatic before you can figure out the main idea of a story.

I mean, as long as a reader is still trying to identify a word or phrase, and understand its meaning, they are not ready for academic courses.

Of course, the school district feels the legal action is without merit. Superintendent Damaris Rau responded 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.’ A special ‘acceleration program’ at Phoenix was created for under-credited students, both refugee and non-refugee, which gives them the opportunity to earn credits toward a high school diploma by the age of 21.”

Rau also explained: “At Phoenix, 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.

It is hard to know what the real issues are in this case. I mean, if these students are being bullied at Phoenix, they will also be bullied at McCaskey. Why? Because the refugee students dress differently. They have less money and they probably don’t speak English well. Plus, they appear to hold on to cultural and religious views that are not in the mainstream.

Are those reasons for bullying justified? Of course not, but they are what refugees have experienced for decades or longer. Just ask those of German and Japanese descent how they were treated during and after WWII.

The crux of the matter is, in my opinion, that this law suit is not going to teach these refugee students how to overcome the discriminatory and academic barriers that others have overcome. Rather, it is going to teach them that it is okay to blame someone else for the reasons they are having difficulties adjusting to life in America.

10 thoughts on “PA refugees & ACLU suing Lancaster school district on wrong side of “readiness”

  1. Assimilation is not happening here! And you are right Sandi these children have not been to school, so they need to start at the beginning. If tested what would it show….grade one or less! This lawyer is taking advantage of these refugees. The lawyer is lining his pockets…..follow the money!

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  2. I believe that with refugees we should absolutely help them integrate as its both in our interest and theirs to see things work. If you bring lots in, but they become isolated you have the problems Europe has had which we don’t want. At the same time unless they come from an English speaking country (or in the case French if being settled in Quebec) or they can show they can speak English at a fluent level (note due to being the international language, English is widely taught globally so many people even in non-English speaking countries can speak it quite well. This is especialy true with those coming from former British colonies where in most English is still an official language) they should have to spend their first year in ESL and then once their English skills are up to standard moved to regular classes. When I was in high school in BC, generally your first year in Canada if you couldn’t speak English well enough, you were in an ESL class and second year a regular one so most would graduate a year behind. Likewise when I went to SFU, if your marks were high enough to get in, but your English wasn’t sufficient, you went in a special English program in your first year and if you passed that you were admitted and could do your studies as normal and if you failed you were then refused admission. That seems like a fair and reasonable. I am fine with governments helping those learn the language, but until they do learn it they should be treated appropriately. And believe it or not with English being the international language, most people I’ve met wherever I’ve travelled want to learn it and in fact I’ve found most people generally wish they could speak it better than they do. Likewise I believe with all countries, a person should be expected within a reasonable timeframe to learn the language and in fact I would argue even Canadian expats who move abroad even as adults should enrol in classes to learn the language even if in the country most speak English as a second language. I’ve travelled to over 40 countries and even as a tourist I always make an effort to at least say a few words in the local language no matter where I go and I always ask before speaking.

    As for bullying, I have zero tolerance for discrimination, but I think as long as the schools have strong rules against bullying and discrimination of all types (not just for immigrants but everyone) then it shouldn’t be an issue. Off course you are right immigrating to a new country is no easy feat and is often a struggle at first. I can say my Great-Grand parents when they immigrated to Canada didn’t find it easy even though over half had English as their first language and it was tough for the first generation yet most were very proud to have come here. And to be fair I’ve found most immigrants in Canada are extremely grateful for being allowed to immigrate here and do not complain, only a minority who get the most attention do. In fact many immigrants I find are more patriotic than native born Canadians since they realize just how lucky we are compared to most people around the world.

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  3. Pingback: Bias Alert « Jack's Newswatch

  4. I have zero tolerance for discrimination too Monkey but kids don’t see it that way. All of us are children of immigrants who worked their butts off doing what was necessary to make something of their lives and their children’s lives. Those who didn’t speak English (I’m thinking of the Hungarian refugees in the 1950s) certainly didn’t whine and complain and sue for services they couldn’t handle. They just got on with doing what was necessary.

    I remember a really friendly fellow at the high school where I was teaching art in the late 1970s/early 1980s. I won’t mention his name but he was a Vietnamese boat person whose family was sponsored by a local church. I recall how he struggled, but always with a smile and a wave. I heard recently that he is now an executive with McDonalds and has four lovely grown successful daughters. I wasn’t surprised at all. And, now that I think of it, no one bullied him at my school probably because he worked so hard at fitting in. As Lyn said, many immigrants now do not want to assimilate unfortunately.

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  5. Fully concur and I think the examples are great ones. This is largely anecdotal, but almost all the immigrants I personally know are more like the ones you mention. For one’s like this story, I put the blame heavily on various organizations they like to play the victim card and even feel at times some take advantage of immigrants to promote their own agenda. Still it would be nice if those who come here are appreciative of how great things are. That doesn’t mean they cannot complain about the government of the day as we all do, but at least don’t ask for special treatment, but by all means once you get citizenship get involved politically with whichever party is closest to your views.

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  6. Sandy – excellent post. But my concern is for the students whose parents and lawyer are pushing this. Unless they have excellent ESL (or ETL or EFL) language skills and a strong academic background, they are going to fail miserably if allowed to attend the “superior” school. How is that supposed to help them in any way?

    Back in the day, I used to hear other parents say “…my child has been tested.” Never heard of a child whose “specialness” meant remedial learning needed; these children were uniformly “gifted”. Figured out quickly that said phrase was shorthand for “…my child is special and the teacher needs to give him/her all the extras; to heck with the other students and their needs.” Deliberately did not get ours tested; figured out ourselves where they were on the spectrum and concentrated on ensuring they acquired the necessary social skills and a sense of responsibility to their community.

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  7. I had a son with special needs and was always appreciative of any extra help, but not at the expense of the other children. These young people have huge language needs that must be present before they go to the prestige school. Like you say Frances, they will need excellent ESL language skills before they can even think about heavy academic work.

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  8. By the way Frances, I published this post a few days ago and yet it only went up on the BT today. Don’t know why but glad my domain is finally working on the aggregator again.

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