The Hempstead school board has no grounds to ask trustee Randy Stith to resign, based on advice from the district's lawyer, one of the board members announced late Thursday at the end of the panel's meeting.
Board member David Gates said that general counsel John Shearan had advised there was no case law for removing a board member convicted of two misdemeanors.
Stith, 28, a Hempstead Village police officer, pleaded guilty March 7 to third-degree possession of a forged instrument and petit larceny in a deal with prosecutors that requires him to resign from the police department as of Friday. Both charges are misdemeanors.
"It is better for the trustees to work together as a whole for the children," Gates said, drawing applause from many of the roughly 25 people who remained at the meeting, held at Alverta B. Gray Schultz Middle School.
Gates, Stith and Patricia Spleen were present for the meeting. Board President LaMont Johnson and Vice President Carmen Ayala did not attend.
Stith declined to comment.
His continued presence on the board has generated controversy. In the plea deal, he admitted submitting a forged letter of recommendation in his application to become a police officer and to stealing money from the village fire department as a volunteer firefighter.
Because he pleaded guilty to misdemeanors, Stith is not required under education law to step down from the school board. He has attended three school board meetings since his guilty plea, including the one Thursday night.
His three-year term expires on June 30, 2020. He was elected in May 2017.
Earlier during Thursday night's board meeting, a woman stood and demanded Stith's resignation. Security officers blocked her from the microphone and others in the audience yelled at her to leave.
"I'm speaking up for the children," said the speaker, Sydney Daniels, 32.
"It's about the children; it's not about Randy," shouted Cheryl Wyche, who wants Stith to remain on the board. She would not give her age.
About a dozen members of New York Communities for Change, who had planned to deliver a petition to the board calling for Stith to step down, said they will take their case to the state Education Department.
On Thursday afternoon, a small group of community activists and parents held a news conference outside the district's Administration Building on Peninsula Boulevard and chanted “Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Randy Stith has got to go!"
The group included Mary Crosson, a chair with New York Communities for Change who served on the school board for several months last year, in an appointive capacity.
“We are concerned about Randy Stith pleading guilty for stealing money from his own co-workers," Crosson said. “Randy has got to go. We are asking for him to resign now from the Hempstead school board because you are not setting a good example for our school.”
Johnson, asked for comment after the news conference, said in a statement: "I take my fiduciary responsibility to protect the interests of the taxpayers very seriously. As a steward of taxpayer dollars, it is imperative that school board members are held to a high moral standard. I am very troubled by the recent circumstances involving one of our school board members.
"I understand that when the public trust is broken, the taxpayers have a right to respond and I want them to know that I am listening," Johnson's statement continued. "The Board has made great strides and it is imperative that we maintain the trust of community and stay steadfast on student achievement."
At the news conference, Peggy Perkins, a mother of three students in the district, said, "It is important that we are talking about Randy Stith, who has the fiduciary responsibility to do what is right for Hempstead and for this community and to step down.”
New York Communities for Change has followed the Hempstead board's efforts to remedy numerous problems in the district, which is the largest kindergarten through 12th-grade system in Nassau County and has been under the oversight of a state-appointed special adviser since October 2017.
Under education law, a school board member convicted of a felony or who pleads guilty to a felony would be automatically removed from office because he or she loses rights as a citizen, including the right to vote, which is required of board members, according to Jay Worona, deputy executive director and general counsel of the New York State School Boards Association.
For a board member to be deemed unqualified, the school board or the state education commissioner would have to determine that the member in question engaged in inappropriate conduct, Worona said. In such a case, the board member is entitled to a due process hearing.
In similar situations elsewhere in New York, board members have chosen to resign so as not to distract from the board’s work, Worona said.
Stith is scheduled to be sentenced next month. Under the plea deal, in addition to resigning from the police department, he faces three years of probation and must pay $4,223 in restitution to the fire department and complete 100 hours of community service.
The initial 13-count indictment against Stith included felony charges, among them first-degree falsifying business records, first-degree offering a false instrument for filing and second-degree possession of a forged instrument. Stith had pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutors said Stith forged a letter of recommendation in 2015 in his application to become a police officer. Prosecutors also accused Stith of making more than $6,500 in unauthorized cash withdrawals from the bank account of the fire department's Southside Hose 2 from 2015 to 2018, when he was treasurer.