Hempstead school board members are close to selecting an independent monitor to provide oversight of the district's enrollment reforms, under a state attorney general's plan to remove barriers for immigrant students, after interviewing a leading candidate for the job behind closed doors.
The board met in executive session for more than 2 1/2 hours during a special meeting Tuesday night at Hempstead High School, and school board president Lamont Johnson said the elected body would continue to do its "due diligence" to select the right candidate soon.
"We narrowed down to a potential candidate," said Johnson, although he didn't disclose who that was. "The attorney general gave us time to make sure we didn't make a hasty decision" but expect to get to a vote soon.
The district agreed to hire a monitor to comply with a provision in an assurance agreement it entered March 2 with state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, whose office investigated allegations officials kept or delayed immigrant children from enrolling in school. The agreement sets in motion a series of reforms to ensure that the rights of all children to have access to public education are protected.
Schneiderman, whose office still encourages residents dealing with registration problems to report those to his office, said in a statement he will remain vigilant until barriers are removed.
"My office is committed to ensuring that Hempstead's enrollment and registration procedures comply with the law and ensuring that all students who seek to enroll in the Hempstead school district are able to do so regardless of their immigration or citizenship status," he said.
Diane Goins, an activist who is the Long Island chair of the nonprofit New York Communities for Change, said the state's oversight "is something that's needed" to correct the district's enrollment problems.
But she said she hopes the process would be more open than other appointments, including selecting former Freeport Mayor Andrew Hardwick to a supervisory security post last week without much public debate.
"I hope that they get someone that would report and follow procedure," Goins said.
The district's enrollment practices will remain under state scrutiny until June 2018.
The district agreed, among key stipulations, to select and hire an independent monitor, at its cost, who would serve for a year to make sure that the district fixes enrollment issues.
The independent monitor would have "unrestricted access to the district's files and records," according to the agreement. The person selected is also expected to submit monthly reports to Schneiderman's office.
The district also is bound to hire or designate an enrollment ombudsman to administer the process and make sure it is fair.
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 has said the district was 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 fall to denounce that dozens of immigrant students had been turned away.
Many of those students were part of a recent influx of unaccompanied minors from Central America, who were seeking refuge with parents and sponsors on Long Island after crossing the border illegally and being resettled according to provisions of anti-trafficking protections in U.S. law. The district scrambled to open a transition school in October, after the state launched its review.