- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 31, 2016

LANCASTER, Pa. (AP) - A central Pennsylvania school district says it is appealing a court ruling allowing refugee students to attend the local high school rather than an alternative school.

The School District of Lancaster’s announcement Tuesday came the week after the federal court ruling - and on the day that students returned to classes at McCaskey High School.

Six refugee students aged 17 to 21 from war-torn countries sued the district last month over their placement at Phoenix Academy, saying language barriers made it impossible to learn there. The suit said district officials had steered at least 30 students in the past three years to the school.

The district places students ages 17 and older with limited credits at Phoenix, an accelerated program focused on getting students to graduate that officials argue is better suited to them than the larger and more traditional high school.

The judge ordered the district to let the students enroll at the regular high school if they chose to do so, ordered instruction allowing them to become proficient in English and told the district to ensure access for them to all curricular and noncurricular programs and activities.

The district decided to appeal to prevent “trial judges from substituting their judgment for that of the school board when placing children in educational settings,” spokeswoman Kelly Burkholder said.

Vic Walczak, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, which filed the suit along with the Education Law Center and others, decried the decision.

“It is unfortunate that the school district is expending so much effort to deny these deserving students an equal and adequate education,” he said in an email.

LNP newspapers reported that four of the students started at McCaskey on Tuesday and will continue there while the case progresses. Walczak said one of the others graduated from Phoenix over the summer and the sixth will soon be 21. Pennsylvania, like many states, allows students to pursue a high school diploma through the school year in which they turn 21.

Civil rights groups have filed at least two similar lawsuits around the country.

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