Uncovers the key civil rights battle that immigrant children fought alongside the ACLU to ensure equal access to education within a xenophobic nation
Journalist Jo Napolitano delves into the landmark case in which the School District of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, was sued for refusing to admit older, non-English speaking refugees and sending them to a high-discipline alternative school. In a legal battle that mirrors that of the Little Rock Nine and Brown v. Board of Education, 6 brave refugee students fought alongside the ACLU and Education Law Center to demand equal access. The School I Deserve illuminates the lack of support immigrant and refugee children face in our public school system and presents a hopeful future where all children can receive an equal education regardless of race, ethnicity, or their country of origin.
One of the students, Khadidja Issa, fled the horrific violence in war-torn Sudan with the hope of a safer life in the United States, where she could enroll in school and eventually become a nurse. Instead, she was turned away by the School District of Lancaster before she was eventually enrolled in one of its alternative schools, a campus run by a for-profit company facing multiple abuse allegations. Napolitano follows Khadidja as she joins the lawsuit as a plaintiff in the Issa v. School District of Lancaster case, a legal battle that took place right before Donald Trump’s presidential election, when immigrants and refugees were maligned on a national stage. The fiery week-long showdown between the ACLU and the school district was ultimately decided by a conservative judge who issued a shocking ruling with historic implications. The School I Deserve brings to light this crucial and underreported case, which paved the way to equal access to education for countless immigrants and refugees to come.
About the Author
Jo Napolitano is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years of experience at the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Newsday. She has written on many topics, but public education remains her primary focus. She first spotted the trend of public schools turning away immigrant children in 2014, when she was a senior reporter for Newsday. Months of research showed the trend was nationwide and won Napolitano a Spencer Education Fellowship to Columbia University to write this book. Connect with her on Twitter @Jo_Napolitano and on Instagram @jonapolitano.
“Napolitano retraces Khadidja’s history with great dexterity . . . Backed by research, profiles, court testimonies, and interviews with teachers, refugees, and immigrant advocates, the book calls into question the vital essence of education and why, even in this modern era of accountability, these injustices persist . . . An eyebrow-raising report on education that is both enraging and heartbreaking.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Laden with compassion and detailed insights into the practices that threaten equal access to education, this is an eye-opening account of a precedent-setting case.” —Publishers Weekly
“Napolitano’s book should be the next step for people horrified by the plight of refugees, undocumented people, and unaccompanied minors.” —Booklist
“Meticulously researched and compassionate, The School I Deserve is a fierce defense of refugees’ right to a quality education.” —Shelf Awareness
“Napolitano’s compelling story of teenage refugees denied the same high school education as their Pennsylvania peers is both heartbreaking and infuriating. It’s an intimate story, and yet Napolitano’s exhaustive research also underscores the consequences of inequality. This book represents a historical moment as important as Brown v. Board of Education, and every democracy-loving American needs to read it.” —Amy Ellis Nutt, author of Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family
“Napolitano’s The School I Deserve—and the legal case it chronicles—is a clarion call for America to live up to its ideals, as a place that embraces those fleeing hunger and persecution.” —Alex Kotlowitz, author of An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago
“Khadidja Issa, a young Sudanese refugee who arrived with her family in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, with aspirations to become a nurse, had to sue her own school district to be admitted because, at eighteen, she was deemed too old to learn there. This little-known story of her titanic and ultimately triumphant battle, along with that of five other teenage refugees, for the education they deserved should be taught alongside the epic struggles of Ruby Bridges and the Little Rock Nine in the civil rights era. No racist mobs blocked Khadidja and her fellow refugees’ access to education, but the callously indifferent practices of her local school district had a similar effect. This book is an important contribution to the ongoing examination of inequality in America.” —Dale Russakoff, author of The Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools?