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8 students hurt in melee at Hempstead High School

Police arrive at Hempstead High School after a

Police arrive at Hempstead High School after a large fight broke out, Monday. (March 8, 2010) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

Hempstead High School was quiet Tuesday morning, the day after eight Hempstead High School students were injured in a melee at the school.

Hempstead Village Police Chief Joseph Wing was at the school Tuesday morning, where media also gathered. The school's security staff was also on the scene.

The melee Monday prompted district officials to dismiss the entire student body of more than 1,400 early, local leaders said.

School board president Charles Renfroe said the altercation began as a dispute between students and escalated, forcing administrators to let students leave early "for their own safety." Renfroe could not specify what sparked the dispute or what hospitals the injured students were taken to.

Dozens of Hempstead Village and Nassau County police responded to the school grounds between 12:30 and 12:45 p.m.

No arrests had been made by late Monday afternoon, according to village police Lt. Francis McNamee. Detectives interviewed some of the injured and planned to review footage from security cameras, he said.

Renfroe said he didn't know where the dispute began. Student accounts differed, with some saying the fight broke out near the cafeteria and others saying it started on the second floor, outside the auditorium.

Several students interviewed outside the school said the fighting took place between African-American and Latino students.

"Hempstead is one little town, but everyone is divided," said Denee Cooper, 18, a senior. "There's nothing the security guards could do."

Freshman Jaime Flores, 16, leaving the grounds with his mother, said the school environment was unsafe. "I'm worried because I have this feeling" more violence will break out, he said.

On Tuesday, Hempstead Village police officers will be deployed inside the school and around the grounds to help maintain security, said Mayor Wayne Hall Sr.

"Parents should know their kids will be safe at school" Tuesday, Deputy Mayor Henry Conyers said.

District Superintendent Patricia Watkins did not respond to requests for comment.

Interim Principal Robert L. Hickey declined, through a security guard, to comment.

Similar fights erupted back-to-back at the school in October 2008. At least one was connected to a dispute between a Latino student and an African-American student, district officials said at the time, and administrators responded by separating students by racial or ethnic affiliations.

Even as reports of violence at the school have decreased since 2003, safety has been a continuing issue. In 2008, freshman Michael Alguera, 15, was fatally stabbed in the school handball court less than an hour after dismissal.

With Gary Dymski and John Valenti

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