Hauppauge schools chief disputes social services on shelter student numbers
Hauppauge school district Superintendent Patricia Sullivan-Kriss harshly criticized Suffolk's top social services official Thursday for having made "inaccurate statements" about the number of students from a county homeless shelter who attend local schools.
Sullivan-Kriss issued a letter via the school district website Thursday afternoon, in response to a statement Suffolk Social Services Commissioner John O'Neill made about the shelter at a public hearing Monday.
About 80 local residents at the hearing said the shelter in Commack was overwhelming the community and the school district, but O'Neill said the number of homeless children at the shelter had dropped from 20 to 10.
In her letter, Sullivan-Kriss said 13 students are from the shelter. State law allows another five former shelter residents who now live in other communities to continue their education in Hauppauge until the end of the school year, she said.
In addition, the superintendent said county officials have told school officials that two more children are expected to enter the school district by week's end. "So, contrary to Mr. O'Neill's statement, we are educating 18 students related to the shelter and anticipate the number to be 20 by week's end," she said.
O'Neill did not return a call for comment. John Nieves, a department spokesman, said the shelter helps the homeless in a way that saves taxpayers money.
Sullivan-Kriss also criticized O'Neill for accusing the district of "wasting taxpayer money" by busing specific students from outside the district. She said O'Neill was "ill-informed of the rights of families to contend they remain homeless."
She said the district fully complies with federal and state laws affecting students, but "transports only students for whom we have a legal obligation."
The school official said she has provided accurate information to both O'Neill's office and county lawmakers, but the commissioner has not returned her call. Legis. John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset), who represents the district, said, "I don't know if they lied but they woefully misunderstand the process."