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Attorney(KOREA, U.S.A., IL.)   LEE, JAE WOOK'S OFFICE →   →
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↓  Federal appeals court upholds order to admit refugee students at McCaskey High School

McCaskey High School, bottom, and School District of Lancaster's alternative school, Phoenix Academy, top.
School District of Lancaster must allow refugee students with limited English skills and formal schooling to attend McCaskey High School, a federal appeals court ruled Monday.

The district typically sends older students with limited credits, including refugees and immigrants, to Phoenix Academy, a privately operated alternative school. Officials say the goal is to enable such students to graduate before age 21, when they no longer receive a free education.

Last summer, six refugee students sued the district over their school placement. Their lawyers argued in federal court that Phoenix Academy lacked the level of English language support required by law and that the academic pace was inappropriate for students with limited formal schooling.


In a preliminary ruling, Judge Edward G. Smith agreed. He ordered the district to admit the suing students to McCaskey, the district’s regular high school, instead. The district immediately appealed the ruling.

On Monday, a federal appeals court upheld Smith’s decision.

“The decision sends a clear and unequivocal message to all public schools that they have a duty to provide sound and effective English language services,” said attorney Maura McInerney said in a press release. McInerney works for the Philadelphia-based Education Law Center, one of three groups representing the students.

District spokeswoman Kelly Burkholder said in a written statement Monday that the district remains proud of the way it serves its population of more than 600 refugee students.

The case is expected to go to a full trial sometime this year. On March 2, Smith will hear a motion to dismiss, as well as an argument to make it a class action lawsuit.

The legal fight has cost the district at least $144,555 so far. Most of that is covered by insurance, officials said, but the district could dip into taxpayer funds if the costs continue to add up.

The students in the lawsuit fled violence and persecution in Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, and Burma before being resettled in the U.S.

“Many immigrant students, particularly those newly arrived in the U.S. with limited prior education have unique and significant language needs that must be proactively addressed,” said McInerney. “They cannot languish in classrooms where they cannot access the curriculum.”

In addition to the Education Law Center, the students are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton LLP.

Staff writer Alex Geli contributed to this story.




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