The parents of two Karen refugees accused the school district of failing to educate their two high school-age sons adequately. After two years in the ELL program, the older sibling read at a second-grade level. Yet the district mainstreamed him into 11th grade.
After meeting the parents, George Thawmoo and Mary Jane Summerville, Pham said he learned quickly that “the clients were passionate about wanting to do something not just for their own kids but for other kids who were not getting a fair education.”
The business litigator saw the case in personal terms. As the son of Vietnamese immigrants, he had to learn English as a second language. Pham is also a parent of three children.
“I had some of the same struggles these kids have to deal with,” he said. “I felt this was a way I could have a positive impact to help not just these children but thousands of refugee families.”
The district enrolls more than 14,000 ELL students annually. Working with colleague Aron Frakes, Pham reached a settlement in 2018 that forces St. Paul to improve the ELL program. “You always look for ways to make a difference, and that’s what this case was,” Pham said. “It will be a memorable case for the duration of my career.”
Read more about Minnesota Lawyer’s superb class of Attorneys of the Year for 2019 here.
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