Hempstead schools forum addresses district problems
More than 100 students, activists, parents and educators at a recent workshop about Hempstead schools came prepared with solutions to help reform a district plagued by underperforming schools, safety concerns and transportation issues.
Many of those at the forum, the third of three, attend Hempstead High School and talked about fear of violence, racial tensions, and being mistreated by fellow students and school guards.
"My school is not a safe environment," said Paola Flores, 17, a senior. "I have witnessed unfair treatment of Hispanic kids by other students, as well as security guards, the people we trust to protect us from harm."
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The district had an enrollment of 6,441 in the 2012-13 academic year, according to the state Department of Education. The state's latest school safety data for Hempstead High showed that in the 2011-12 school year there were 47 minor altercations, 38 disruptive incidents, eight weapons possessions, eight intimidations without a weapon, four reckless endangerment incidents, three drug possessions, one physical assault and three other incidents.
"I don't like having friends who are afraid to come to school because they are afraid they're going to get beat up," junior Samson Fashakin, 16, said at the Thursday workshop. He added that fights happen often.
The district employs about 95 security aides and investigates reported complaints, Nathan Jackson, the district's spokesman, said in a statement Friday.
"The district takes each of these issues very seriously," he said. "The performance of our staff is always under review, and unprofessional conduct is not tolerated."
Blanca Villanueva, Long Island education organizer for the Massapequa-based Alliance for Quality Education, suggested the district adopt the state's "Community Schools" model that provides children and their families with academic help, health care, social services, counseling and employment assistance as a strategy to help increase graduation rates.
Last year, officials applied for a $500,0000 grant through the Community Schools initiative, but did not receive it, Jackson said.
Other concerns brought up by students, who included middle schoolers, and the audience were the need for more extracurricular activities and services available to limited-English speakers and their parents, as well as offering busing to students.
"Students should not have to walk miles to and from their school just to get their education," said sophomore Timothy John, 16, leader of the Hempstead Student Union. "That is just ridiculous."
But Jackson said the school district works within the guidelines established by the state to provide transportation.
State law requires districts to provide transportation for students in kindergarten through eighth grade who live more than 2 miles from school and for those in grades nine to 12 who live more than 3 miles away.
The workshop was held at the Hempstead Public Library and was organized by the New York Civil Liberties Union's Nassau chapter and the Long Island Civic Engagement Table, along with several community organizations.