Judge: Hempstead school district wrongly fired principals

The Barack Obama Elementary School in Hempstead in The Barack Obama Elementary School in Hempstead in 2014. Photo Credit: Google maps

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A Nassau County Supreme Court judge has ruled that the Hempstead School District failed to comply with a state law when it fired three principals last year who could now be reinstated.

The March 12 decision from Justice Norman Janowitz in Mineola comes after the fired principals -- David Evans, Helisse Palmore and James Thomas -- sued the district in July.

The lawsuit stemmed from the school board voting in April 2013 to dismiss Palmore, then principal of Barack Obama Elementary School, Evans of the Academy of Music & Art and Thomas of the Academy of Business & Law, along with three administrators.

Janowitz ruled that the school district failed to evaluate the principals as required by a 2010 education law that calls for an "Annual Professional Performance Review" to be a "significant factor" in all employment decisions, including terminations.

"Since they [the school board] didn't do the evaluation at all, there is no way they could have taken the evaluation into consideration before firing them," said Michael A. Starvaggi, the attorney for the Council of Administrators and Supervisors. "They violated the law."

The three principals are entitled to be reinstated with full back pay and benefits, Starvaggi said. All were eligible for tenure at the time of their dismissals. Attorneys representing the school district acknowledged in court documents that the evaluation procedures were not completed before the three principals were terminated but attributed it to not receiving the necessary data to conduct the evaluations. They also argued that the positions held by Evans and Thomas would have been eliminated in the subsequent restructuring of the high school.

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The school district attorneys also claimed that "dismal" student scores and the principals' conduct after they were told of their terminations would have provided additional reasons for denying them tenure.

Hempstead schools spokesman Nathan Jackson declined to comment on the ruling, saying in a statement that "the District's policy . . . is not to comment on that pending litigation, until all matters are finally concluded, including any and all issues that may be appealed."

The court dismissed petitions of the three former administrators challenging their firing -- English Language Arts director Keshia Rucker, technology director Carlos Ramirez and science director Francisco Roca. After the dismissals, the school board voted to dissolve its high school three-academy system that started in September 2010 and return to one large high school. It later hired Reginald Stroughn, Hempstead's principal from 2003 until he retired in 2009, to be executive principal of the high school, along with four assistant principals.

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