Six refugees are suing a Pennsylvania school district after they were sent to a disciplinary school for "underachieving" students.
The students are between 17 and 21 years old and have fled to the United States as refugees from Somalia, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burma, according to Fox News.
"[The] Plaintiffs are refugees who have fled war, violence, and persecution from their native countries," the lawsuit states. "Having finally escaped their turbulent environment to resettle in America, these young immigrants yearn to learn English and get an education so they can make a life for themselves."
While the students originally had hopes of entering McCaskey High School in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, they were instead sent to Phoenix Academy, which, according to its website, offers a "remedial program" for at-risk students. The school boasts that it offers a "structured environment with individualized attention and behavior supports," and that it specifically targets students who are either struggling academically or have "autistic and exceptional needs."
The six refugees claim that they are being denied a quality education, according to Fox News, and that they were traumatized by the school's harsh security measures, which include pat-downs and inspections of property.
"Our clients have already experienced much trauma and loss before arriving in this country," said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "Rather than helping them make the difficult adjustment by providing educational resources required by law, the school district has denied them an education completely or forced them into an alternative school, where they are often bullied and don’t learn."
The school district maintains, however, that Phoenix Academy is the right choice for the refugee students, given their ages and their limited English skills.
"Phoenix Academy is not the prison that some people would make it out to be. They're actually getting more focused instruction away from the distractions of the larger McCaskey High School," said the school district's lead attorney Sharon O'Donnell, according to Penn Live.
The refugees themselves have disputed that claim, saying that English as a Second Language students are often left behind. "The class moves fast and I don't learn anything," said Khadidja Issa, a refugee from Sudan.
Issa and the other students hope to file a successful injunction, according to Fox News, and transfer to McCaskey High School.