School District of Lancaster agrees to settlement over handling of refugee students

LANCASTER, Pa. (WHTM) – Thanks to a settlement with the School District of Lancaster, refugees ages 17 to 21 who speak little or no English have the option to attend McCaskey High School.

Civil rights lawyers in July sued the district on behalf of six students who claimed they were being forced to attend Phoenix Academy, a remedial school in the city.

Kathleen Hamilton, an attorney with Pepper Hamilton, represents some of those students.

“These kids are our clients, who were refugees, who went through heart-wrenching, horrible experiences in their own countries,” Hamilton said. “They were eager to come to this country and start a new life and become productive citizens, and in order to do that, you need an education.”

The settlement also says those students who opt to enroll at McCaskey High School will spend at least one marking period in a “newcomer” program for non-English speaking students.

“I don’t see it as a loss,” superintendent Dr. Damaris Rau said. “What was a loss was the amount of time and energy we put into this, but what’s not a loss is that our kids will continue to receive phenomenal services.”

The district’s insurance carrier will pay the bulk of the settlement money: $300,000 for the plaintiffs’ legal fees. The district is also on the hook for another $70,000 in out-of-pocket expenses.

“We will continue to welcome our refugees,” Rau said. “The City of Lancaster and the School District of Lancaster have always been welcoming places for kids.”

The settlement still needs to be finalized, but that’s expected to happen in the next few weeks.

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