In January 2010, after the violent incidents at South Philadelphia High School against Asian immigrant students, the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations began a series of public hearings as part of our unique mandate to address intergroup conflicts based on race, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, national origin, ancestry, age, disability, marital status, and source of income. We heard from 130 witnesses—parents, teachers, students, principals, and others—about their experiences with intergroup conflicts in Philadelphia's public schools. The Commission received an additional 40 written statements.
The Commission came to understand that intergroup conflicts cover a broad range of unfair, disrespectful, and aggressive behavior that can cause emotional and physical harm and negatively impact students' ability to learn. We also learned that such conflicts are a system-wide problem in the School District of Philadelphia. Testimony revealed that too often the District is not doing enough to prevent and resolve such conflicts and that inadequate language access – a legal right – is exacerbating the situation. In addition, effective and positive strategies like peer mediation, positive behavioral support, and restorative justice are not adequately utilized or uniformly implemented.
Yet students also spoke of positive, dynamic efforts that they engage in, with the assistance of supportive adults, to peacefully resolve conflict. We heard about schools where educators and staff actively build bridges and teach respectful behavior by example. We saw models of community-based programs that allow young people from different backgrounds to relate to each other through shared interests.
Despite these positive efforts, the widespread presence of unresolved intergroup conflicts remains. But it is the Commission's fervent hope that this report will act as a catalyst to encourage the District to make resolving, tracking, and preventing intergroup conflicts a high priority. It is essential that the District build a climate of respect and tolerance across the City's schools so as to widen the circle of our concern to include all of the diverse young people of Philadelphia.