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Hempstead school board selects monitor of its enrollment reforms

Hempstead School Board president Lamont Johnson at a

Hempstead School Board president Lamont Johnson at a special meeting, Thursday evening, April 23, 2015. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

The Hempstead school board moved Thursday night to approve state-mandated oversight, selecting a center affiliated with New York University in Manhattan to serve as independent monitor of its enrollment reforms, under an agreement to remove barriers for immigrant children looking to go to school.

Board members emerged after more than two hours of meeting in executive session and voted 4-0, without public discussion of their choice and with board member JoAnn Simmons abstaining, to select NYU Metro Center as their monitor.

"We believe they're the most qualified for the job," board president Lamont Johnson said after the vote. "They have extensive knowledge in the educational field."

Johnson did not disclose how much the district would pay, except to say it's "a reasonable cost, especially compared to some of the other candidates."

Simmons did not explain her abstention vote and Johnson said only he is authorized to speak on the board's behalf.

The district has yet to appoint or designate an enrollment ombudsman under the same settlement it entered with the office of state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, but the board also is considering candidates for that role, Johnson said.

The district landed in hot water in the fall after immigrant parents, children and their advocates said the Hempstead schools were turning them away or delaying their enrollment for lack of room and over questions of required documentation. Many of those children were part of an exodus of unaccompanied minors fleeing violence, crime and poverty in Central America.

The Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools, the center's full name, is described on its website as a university-based organization that "is powerfully focused on driving equity and access" in the school districts where it works.

The agreement with Schneiderman's office, approved by the board on March 2, mandates reforms to ensure the rights of all children in the district have access to public education. Under the deal, the district's enrollment practices will remain under state monitoring until June 2018.

The independent monitor would have "unrestricted access to the district's files and records," according to the settlement, and could make site visits to check progress. The monitor is expected to submit monthly reports to Schneiderman's office.

In addition, the ombudsman "shall be responsible for administering the district's enrollment process" to make sure it is fair and equitable.

The school board did not meet initial deadlines of 30 days to hire the monitor and 45 days to appoint an ombudsman, but a Schneiderman spokeswoman said the district had been granted "modest extensions."

Hempstead's schools became a focus of investigations by the state Education Department and Schneiderman's office after parents, children and advocates rallied outside administrative offices in the early fall to denounce that dozens of immigrant students had been turned away.

The district scrambled to open a transition school in late October, after the state launched its review.

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