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Hempstead school board agrees to comply with Schneiderman's orders for immigrant children

Lamont Johnson at Hempstead High School on July

Lamont Johnson at Hempstead High School on July 1, 2014, when Hempstead's school board voted to make him its president. Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

The Hempstead school board, after meeting behind closed doors for more than 5 1/2 hours, voted unanimously to approve what district Clerk Patricia Wright called "an assurance" to Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman that the school system would comply with state requirements to provide immigrant children an education.

Wright said the agreement is "in the best interests of the district," adding it would bring the schools into "full compliance."

After emerging from a closed session shortly before 12:30 a.m. Tuesday, the five-member board did not disclose details of its agreement with Schneiderman's office. Board president Lamont Johnson said he was "advised by legal counsel not to make any comments at this time." He said the agreement eventually would be released for public review.

The school board met in a hastily called meeting to decide how to respond to a state order to correct enrollment problems affecting immigrant children. Two minutes into the meeting, Johnson called for the executive session discussion.

District officials had said last week they would comply with orders from the New York State Education Department to remove barriers that may keep or delay immigrant children from enrolling in district schools.

Hempstead has been in the spotlight since October, when a group of advocates and parents protested because the district had kept more than 30 students -- many of them children who arrived illegally as unaccompanied minors from Central America -- from enrolling in school.

The district was aiming to reach a deal with Schneiderman's office, which led an investigation into whether the district is fulfilling its obligation to educate students regardless of their immigration status.

Johnson said earlier in the day the special meeting sought to comply with state requirements and "follow up" on issues raised by Schneiderman's office.

The few residents who attended the meeting left in frustration and without knowing what the discussion was about.

"We've all been here for multiple meetings and every time we come the board goes into executive session and we get precious little information," said Franz Nicolas, president of the Country Club Estates Civic Association.

A Feb. 17 letter from the state Department of Education had put an ultimatum on district officials, explaining they could be removed from their posts if they didn't immediately enroll immigrant children, assess the students' abilities for placement and discontinue use of waitlists for those seeking to enroll.

Schneiderman's office negotiated related assurances last month with officials in 20 other New York school districts who agreed to remove hindrances to registration for immigrant students and their parents. No other Long Island or New York City schools were among the districts that had to settle.

Hempstead's was the most notorious case of immigrant students running into problems enrolling in schools after a large influx of unaccompanied minors arriving into the country, with more than 3,000 of them settling in the region in the fiscal year that ended in September.

The state Education Department and the state attorney general's office launched investigations after parents and their advocates said those children were left out of school. Hempstead officials scrambled to open an annex school to place the children by late October, but complaints about registration problems and unequal access to education have lingered.

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