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Hempstead officials expect up to 150 students at transition school

Hempstead School Board President Lamont Johnson stands in

Hempstead School Board President Lamont Johnson stands in a classroom at a "transition school" for students at 100 Main St. on Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014, in Hempstead. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

Hempstead district officials said they expect up to 150 students, including recent Central American immigrants who advocates and relatives said have been turned away from schools for weeks, to be in classes at a Main Street facility by week's end.

The first students are to report at 8 a.m. Wednesday to Hempstead High School Annex, the name that Associate Superintendent James Clark called the district-leased space on the second floor of 100 Main St., in the heart of the village.

Clark, who oversees secondary curriculum and instruction, said classes will be given for grades 9-12 and a full school day will be observed.

Workers Tuesday made final preparations in the classrooms, which include a computer lab with new-looking Apple computers and a science lab. Posters on the white walls featured inspirational sayings such as "You Are About to Enter a Learning Zone" and "Attitude is a Little Thing That Makes a Big Difference."

The district previously ran an alternative high school program there called HYPE Academy, an acronym for "Helping Youth Pursue Excellence." Those services ended more than a year ago, and the district continued to lease the space for administrative offices and other uses, school board president Lamont Johnson said.

District officials, asked Tuesday and Monday for more specifics, could not say how much the lease costs, how long the district has held the lease, or how large the facility is.

Hispanic community advocates contend at least 34 recent immigrants -- some of whom entered the country illegally this year as unaccompanied minors, fleeing violence and poverty in Central America -- have been repeatedly turned away from district schools since classes began Sept. 3.

The district says it has been overwhelmed by an influx of hundreds of new students and is doing what it can to accommodate them.

After community advocates and parents of some children demonstrated last week outside the district's middle school, saying the students' legal right to an education was being violated, state Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. ordered Nassau BOCES' interim superintendent to investigate Hempstead's enrollment procedures and report to King by Thursday.

District officials announced plans Monday to begin classes in the Main Street space as a "transition school."

The 150 students expected there is a far larger number than the 34 Hispanic students cited by advocates. The district did not explain if all the students coming to the facility have been left out of classes or if some are transferring from Hempstead High School.

Johnson said he believes students will be impressed after they see the clean, bright and modern-looking hallways and classrooms.

"I think they're going to be very excited," he said after giving tours of the facility to reporters. "This is the best we have to offer. We're providing a very clean facility. We have shown that we value all children's education. We're here to accommodate all children's educational needs."

The entire building is a former bus terminal that also is home to a Latino travel agency and a jewelry store, along with a shuttered Dunkin' Donuts. It is across the street from a Nassau County civil and criminal courthouse.

District officials "believe this will provide the kids with access to education so they can be successful here in America," Clark said. "It will be a place just like we have for all our kids, with an opportunity to learn, and it should be no different for our kids, like those who go to a charter school or a BOCES school."

Students will receive "content-area instruction" in math, science, social studies and English as a Second Language (ESL), along with gym class and other subjects, school officials said.

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