School board candidate Maribel Toure addresses the Hempstead School Board...

School board candidate Maribel Toure addresses the Hempstead School Board with her concerns regarding immigrant students during a public meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2014. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Residents at Wednesday night's Hempstead school board meeting raised concerns about the district's ability to absorb hundreds of new arrivals, many of whom do not speak English.

The meeting came a day after an activist group said 34 Hispanic children -- some recent immigrants from Central America -- have been turned away from the district since the start of the school year.

While some at the board meeting said the children deserve an education -- they are entitled to one by federal law -- others said the district is already failing its current students and should concentrate on other issues, like improving academics.

The Rev. Reginald Benjamin asked board members how the district is coping with the new students "dumped" at its doorstep.

"A lot don't speak English," said Benjamin, a longtime Hempstead resident. "How are you going to accommodate that?"

The school board Wednesday night authorized the hiring of about 15 bilingual and English-as-a-second-language instructors.

Board president Lamont Johnson said the district does not want to use the new students as scapegoats for the district's existing academic and other problems.

A meeting between Johnson and community activists working with the parents of children they say have been turned away is set for Friday to discuss overcrowding and scheduling.

Several of the children were still not in classrooms Wednesday afternoon but "for us, it's tremendous progress that this is public and that people know that this is happening and that parents of these kids have a voice and are speaking up," said Lucas Sanchez, director of the Nassau County office of New York Communities for Change, a nonprofit that advocates for low- and moderate-income people. "The bottom line is that these kids that have a constitutional right to a public school education are still not receiving classroom instruction."

Lilian Celis, a recent immigrant from El Salvador, said Wednesday she wants her two teenage sons, who are not in school, to be able to enroll.

"We are kind of anxious waiting for this to happen," she said in Spanish.

More than 1,200 new students have enrolled at the district this year, school officials said, and a substantial portion are non-English-speaking.

They are packed up to 50 in a classroom and administrators have been saying for weeks that they need to acquire more space. After the meeting Wednesday night, Johnson said the district will soon begin using a district building located at 100 Main St. to house roughly 150 children.

Hempstead had 6,280 students in the 2012-13 school year, the last year for which state data is available. According to records, 77 percent were economically disadvantaged.

In addition to more students, the district is also bracing for a school board election on Oct. 28 after state education Commissioner John B. King Jr. this summer threw out the results for incumbent Betty Cross and challenger Maribel Touré.

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