District Lays Off Southern Aide Who Saved Asian Students

"I'm doing my job, and doing pretty good," says Violet Sutton-Lawson. "What is this madness?"

By Janie Campbell
|  Saturday, Jun 26, 2010  |  Updated 3:28 PM EDT
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"Total Lack of Moral Leadership"

NBCPhiladelphia.com

Angry Southern High students and their parents held signs during a school district meeting Wednesday. They say officials haven't addressed their concerns over what they call racially motivated beatings at the school.

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Advocate: The Adults Made Ethnic Slurs

Ellen Somekawa, with Asian Americans United, says staff at South Philadelphia high school made ethnic slurs.

Asian Students March on School District

A group of Asian-American students who say they've been the victims of racially-motivated beatings marched to a school district meeting Wednesday to hear what officials had to say.
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After a series of violent attacks on Asian students at South Philadelphia High School culminated in a horrifying melee in the halls December 3, school administrators and security guards were criticized for turning a blind eye to ongoing racial violence -- and even accused of adding their own taunts to the cacaphony of confrontation that plagued the school.

But whatever the security failures -- and there were many -- they had nothing to do with Violet Sutton-Lawson, a school community liaison whose bravery was heralded in a district report for twice risking personal injury to intervene for students under attack.

The recognition she gets? A pink slip.

"I put my life in danger," an "angry, disbelieving" Sutton-Lawson told Philly.com after learning she's been relieved from her position working with teen mothers. "They just laid me right off."

Perhaps the district feels her job can be done by one of the 126 security cameras they installed only after the attacks made national headlines, prompted 50 Asian students to hold a weeklong walk-out, and set off an investigation by the Department of Justice.

But extra security cameras are no substitute for Violet Sutton-Lawson. Just after noon on December 3, she left her classroom to find 8-10 students beating an Asian student sprawled on the hallway floor. The 58-year-old Wharton Street resident pushed through the crowd, reached the boy, and wrapped her arms around him, glaring at the assailants and saving him from further injury.

Minutes later, in the school's cafeteria, she boldly stepped between a mob of students who were punching and kicking a group of Asian students.

30 students were attacked that day, and seven were hospitalized. But in the months following, Sutton-Lawson says, she never heard from District officials despite the written commendation for courage. Not a word of thanks, a pat on the back, or anything, until a letter arrived saying she'd be replaced by someone with seniority so the district could save her much-needed $36,000 salary.

"Clearly, this is a lady who has put the kids first," said Arlene Kempin of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. "It doesn't seem like the district does."

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