Pennsylvania school district Oks pact on immigrant students

A Pennsylvania school district reached a settlement Tuesday with the American Civil Liberties Union over what civil rights attorneys contend was a practice of denying older refugee and immigrant students a meaningful education by steering them to alternative high schools.

The Lancaster School District's settlement was approved Tuesday night by the school board. The district said it ends a lawsuit filed by the ACLU in August.

"Tonight's outcome is a positive step for our students, our taxpayers, and our community," said Superintendent Damaris Rau. Rau said the district is serving 1,950 English learners this year, including more than 550 refugee students.

A message left for the ACLU was not immediately returned.

Under the agreement, the district will continue to operate its accelerated Phoenix Academy for students who do not have enough credits to graduate from high school before turning 21 years old.

Immigrant students aged 17-21 with little or no English proficiency will now have the option of attending the district's McCaskey High School. Those with no English proficiency will spend at least one marking period in a newcomer program. As their English skills increase, they may enter what's called a small learning community at McCaskey or transfer to Phoenix Academy, where they'll earn credits faster toward graduation.

The district also will create separate classrooms for students 19-21 years old to avoid having high school students as young as 14 sharing classrooms with young adults.

"We are pleased to have found a way to improve our offerings and to further our community's commitment to serve arriving families and students," said Edie Gallagher, vice president of the school board.