Students in Hempstead who have not seen the inside of a classroom since the school year started on Sept. 3 have finally begun receiving their constitutionally guaranteed education.
For the past six weeks, as many as 70 school-aged children, many of whom are among the newly arrived children from Central America, have been arriving each day at Hempstead High School, signing in, and then being told to go home.
The procedure, involving legally registered students, would repeat itself day after day—until a high school staff member leaked the information to civil rights organizations like the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) and New York Communities for Change (NYCC). Hempstead School Board President Lamont Johnson has repeatedly claimed he had no idea students were being sent home.
Starting today, 185 high school students have begun classes at a “transition school” at 100 Main St. in Hempstead. The site is called the HYPE Academy, and with the infusion of newly hired bilingual teachers, will give students the chance to get the education they are legally entitled to.
“It’s a start,” said Lucas Sanchez, an organizer for NYCC. “The district usually only feels pressure to do anything when they feel the heat from the state, and I think that’s what finally made things happen here.”
Questions remain as to exactly how many students were not given schedules and how those students were chosen. Most sources put the figure between 34 and 70. Moreover, at least one source told Long Island Wins that three or four of those students were Haitian.
School district spokesman Nathan Jackson told Long Island Wins Tuesday afternoon that there was a plan in place to make up the six weeks of classes the students have missed out on, but that details of that plan were not finalized yet.
Jackson also confirmed that this is a temporary solution, and that students would eventually be transitioned to the main high school building at 201 President St. The “transition school” is only a stopgap solution to a much larger problem: Hempstead has way too many students and way too few teachers to offer a proper education. It’s an issue that still has no solution in sight.
Elias Mestizo, the president of the Hempstead Classroom Teachers Association, said he’s been told by his educators in the middle and high schools that there are “about 300” newly immigrated students that the district did not expect when school opened in September, adding to the 900-plus new students entering the district that were already anticipated.
“The immigration issue is taking the lead story, but the underlying story is that the district has failed to make proper decisions [about overcrowding] all the way back to last spring, and we’ve got teachers with 45, 50, even 60 students in one classroom,” Mestizo said. “The teachers are upset because they can’t educate every child, and the students are getting severely short-changed. There aren’t enough desks, there’s not enough room in these classrooms.”
Mestizo said that the district was warned in the spring about the expected 900-student bulge in enrollment. To add insult to injury, budget cuts were made that eliminated teachers, and the school day at the high school level was shortened to eight periods from nine, creating fewer options for students taking classes.
Teachers, parents, and students are also frustrated that the school district has refused to release basic information about the overcrowding, such as how many of the new students were recent arrivals to Hempstead from Central America, how many were not given schedules, and what will be done to ease the overcrowding.
“There’s still a lot of answers that we don’t have, and I don’t believe any numbers coming from the district because they keep changing,” said Jason Starr, Nassau County chapter director for NYCLU. “We’ve got kids sitting on the floor of rooms, kids being turned away for six weeks … it’s out of control.”