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Update on Lori Phanachone

aThis just in! Storm Lake's Pilot Tribune recently published an article saying that Lori Phanachone was reinstated into the National Honor Society after having her membership revoked last Friday. Lori, a Laotian American high school senior at Storm Lake High School, was punished for refusing to take a state-wide English competency test simply because she marked on her registration forms that she spoke Laotian at home. For more info, see previous Blaaag posts by both Marilla and myself.

A civil rights agency representing a Laotian American Storm Lake High School honor student reports that the National Honor Society membership of Lori Phanachone was revoked at SLHS on Friday, then restored on Monday.
The district had given assurances that she would not be punished by removal from the program, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund officials said early Monday, calling for immediate reinstatement of the student to the National Honor Society as well as removal of any disciplinary action from Phanachone's files and assurance in writing that she will not be further punished or excluded.

And for those who don't know, AALDEF has taken on Lori's case. Here is the press release:

Honor student deemed an English Language Learner for declaring Lao as her home language
New York, NY — The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), which is representing Iowa honors student Lori Phanachone, has called for the removal of all references to disciplinary action from her school record after she refused to take an English Language Learner (ELL) test. Phanachone was mislabeled an English Language Learner (ELL) after naming Lao as her home language.

Khin Mai Aung, the AALDEF staff attorney representing the student, said: “Lori Phanachone is an honor student who has excelled in mainstream classes throughout her life, and happens to speak Lao as her home language. Storm Lake has improperly conflated my client’s knowledge of Lao with lack of fluency in English.”

The Storm Lake School District, which did not assess Ms. Phanachone’s English level when she enrolled two years ago, has since subjected her to a yearly test for ELLs. The 3.98 GPA senior did not receive English as a Second Language or other ELL services before moving to Storm Lake as a sophomore. Since matriculating in Storm Lake, Ms. Phanachone has excelled in advanced courses–all of which were taught in English. This year, she boycotted the yearly ELL test in protest. As a result, Ms. Phanachone was suspended for 3 days and threatened with the loss of National Honor Society membership, exclusion from school activities including the track team, prom and other extracurricular activities, as well as further disciplinary action.

Lori Phanachone said: “Storm Lake labeled me an English Language Learner when I enrolled without even bothering to test me. All I want is to continue my education without the school labeling me unfairly.”

Among other things, AALDEF demands that the Storm Lake School District:
  • Remove all references to Lori Phanachone’s suspension and other disciplinary action from her school records;
  • Assure in writing that it will not impose further disciplinary action on her;
  • Clarify Storm Lake’s procedures for classifying students as ELL upon enrollment;
  • Explain how and why Lori Phanachone was classified as an ELL under Storm Lake’s classification procedures; and
  • Reclassify Lori Phanachone, and other affected students if appropriate under Iowa and federal law, as English proficient.
Thank goodness this case is making some headway! Like Marilla said, this individual case may seem insignificant and just a technicality, but it's representative of many ways in which the law forces people into strict categories and undervalues America's diversity. AALDEF has asked people not to contact the school administrators, but feel free to write Lori letters of support! If have a letter, email it to theblaaag@gmail.com and we will make sure it gets to Lori!


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