The New York attorney general's office will monitor Hempstead schools' enrollment procedures until June 2018 to ensure compliance with state and federal law concerning immigrant students.
The district, under an agreement the school board unanimously approved early Tuesday, must hire or designate an ombudsman to oversee enrollment, adopt measures to avoid inquiries on children's citizenship and immigration status, train staff on procedures and retain an independent monitor.
The Hempstead school board approved the "Assurance of Discontinuance" with Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman's office in a 5-0 vote after meeting in executive session for more than five hours.See alsoRead the auditMore coverageOpinion and analysis: Hempstead School DistrictSee alsoRead the state's letter
The special meeting started at 6:30 p.m. Monday and ended about 12:30 a.m. Tuesday.
The settlement is the latest development in a push to remove enrollment barriers in Hempstead, where advocates and parents said school officials turned away immigrant children or delayed their attendance. The monthslong controversy and investigations spurred unprecedented action from the state Education Department.
The 24-page pact requires district officials to regularly report progress to the attorney general's office until the end of the 2017-18 school year. That includes supplying monthly reports and sworn affidavits of compliance by the superintendent and board president -- as mandated by the Education Department two weeks ago.
"I am pleased that the district has committed to ensuring no eligible child is impermissibly denied the right to a free education," Schneiderman said. "Today's agreement will not only provide the district with the tools it needs to bring its enrollment process into compliance with the law, but will also ensure that students who experienced delays this year receive additional services to make up for the time they were not in the classroom learning."
The district has 30 days to propose compensatory educational services for students who weren't properly enrolled for several weeks. That instruction must be given after school or during breaks, in addition to regular classes. The attorney general's office also must approve the district's independent monitor.
Jason Starr, director of the New York Civil Liberties Union's Nassau chapter, praised the "robust requirements" in the accord and said it's good the monitoring will last years "to make sure they don't fall back into the same practices."
Hempstead has seen student rolls soar as immigrant children who entered the United States illegally as unaccompanied minors moved into Nassau and Suffolk. More than 3,000 of those children -- many fleeing violence and poverty in Central America -- had resettled with relatives or sponsors on Long Island as the fiscal year ended Sept. 30. It's not clear how many live in the Hempstead district.
The problems surfaced in mid-October, when parents and advocates said more than 30 students in Hempstead had been turned away from school. Administrators scrambled to open a "transition school" where they placed dozens of students.
The settlement represents "a monumental victory" for children, parents and their advocates, said Lucas Sánchez, director of the Nassau County office of New York Communities for Change, an advocacy group. He said he hopes "this would force the district to adequately improve the way they operate" and "raise standards in the school district for all children," but said he wants to see administrators held accountable.
Schneiderman's investigation found that Hempstead kept a wait list of "64 students of various ages" who were turned away and that "numerous students" still were waiting to be enrolled last month.
The district, the review found, had considered sharing immigrant students' addresses with village zoning officials, which could have a "chilling effect" on enrollment. The agreement states the district should not "create barriers that have the purpose or result of chilling, discouraging or denying enrollment by students on the basis of their immigration status."
The Education Department gave district officials an ultimatum to correct the problems.
The enrollment controversy also triggered a joint review by the Education Department and attorney general's Office of Enrollment Practices in other districts in Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester and Rockland counties.
Schneiderman's office negotiated related assurances last month with officials in 20 other New York school districts -- none of those were on Long Island -- that agreed to remove hindrances to registration for immigrant students.