Philadelphia Immigration Lawyers: Ruling for Refugee Students

A group of five students from Somalia, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Myanmar were initially denied enrollment into Lancaster, Pennsylvania’s district program for international students. The students are refugees who fled war, violence, and persecution in their native countries. The Lancaster school district placed these students into an accelerated program at the Phoenix Academy, an alternative, for-profit high school for students with disciplinary problems in the district. However, a U.S. District Judge ruled that the district violated their rights by failing to place them in a program specifically focused on teaching English.

According to Judge Edward G. Smith, students like these, with no ability to speak or understand English, suffer when being placed in accelerated classes. The material is taught twice as fast as in a normal school, and in a language that the students are incapable of understanding. Expert testimony confirmed that this was not a sound educational practice.

A Ruling That Can Affect Immigrants Nationwide

The district initially denied the students entry to McCaskey on grounds that they would be unlikely to graduate before they turned 21—the cutoff age for high school graduation in Pennsylvania. The students are aged 17 to 20. However, the judge granted an injunction allowing the students to attend McCaskey High School, which is known for its superior academic program. According to Judge Smith, the placement in Phoenix violated the Equal Educational Opportunity Act.

The judge emphasized that his ruling should not create a new, blanket entitlement for students with unique language needs. He noted that these students were seeking admittance into a program that already existed at the time, and has been specifically designed to help students who do not speak English. Judge Smith’s ruling could set a new precedent nationwide. According to the most recent data, there are more than 840,000 immigrant students in the United States. Many municipalities are currently trying to figure out how to address the special needs of these students.

Philadelphia Immigration Lawyers at Surin & Griffin, P.C. Assist Refugee Students

All children in the United States are entitled to equal access to a public elementary and secondary education, regardless of their or their parents’ actual or perceived citizenship, or immigration status. If you have questions about your rights, the experienced Philadelphia immigration lawyers at Surin & Griffin, P.C. can help. To schedule a confidential consultation, call us today at 215-925-4435 or complete our convenient online contact form.