AALDEF Demands Reinstatement of Iowa Student's National Honor Society Membership After Unjust Discipline

Monday, Apr 6, 2009

Storm Lake School District violates earlier assurance that honors student's membership is safe

New York, NY -- Directly violating earlier written assurances, the Storm Lake School District in Iowa has revoked the National Honor Society membership of Laotian American student Lori Phanachone, after the 3.98 GPA senior refused an English Language Learner (ELL) test. The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), which is representing Ms. Phanachone, has called for reinstatement of her membership and removal of all disciplinary action from her school records.

Khin Mai Aung, the AALDEF staff attorney representing the student, said: "Storm Lake explicitly assured us in writing that Lori Phanachone's National Honors Society membership is safe. Now it has gone back on its word. This demonstrates precisely why Ms. Phanachone needs full redress, including removal of all disciplinary action from her record."

Ms. Phanachone was mislabeled an ELL for naming Lao as her home language, without an English proficiency assessment, when she moved to Storm Lake two years ago. Ms. Phanachone has been subjected to early ELL testing while excelling in advanced courses taught in English. This year, she boycotted a yearly ELL test in protest, resulting in a 3-day suspension, exclusion from extracurricular activities, and loss of the National Honor Society membership. Contrary to earlier written assurances from Storm Lake's attorney, Ms. Phanachone received a letter revoking her membership on Friday, April 3. In the letter, Craig Lyon, faculty advisor for the school's National Honors Society chapter, stated that Ms. Phanachone's membership was dissolved due to her failure to maintain "standards of scholarship, leadership, service and character[.]" AALDEF is appealing the dismissal.

Lori Phanachone said: "This has really thrown me into a loop. The school's lawyer promised my National Honor Society membership was safe, and now they've revoked it. I'm mad, sad and confused at the same time--I just don't know what to expect anymore."

Among other things, AALDEF has further demanded that the Storm Lake School District also:

  • 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.

For more information:
Khin Mai Aung
Staff Attorney
212.966.5932 ext. 219
kaung@aaldef.org